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March 24, 1998

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BJP looks ahead to winning trust vote

George Iype in New Delhi

The five-day-old Atal Bihari Vajpayee government sailed through its first litmus test on Tuesday when the Telugu Desam Party's Ganti Mohana Chandra Balayogi was elected Speaker of the 12th Lok Sabha.

Balayogi, a joint candidate of the TDP, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its alliance partners, beat the Congress-United Front nominee Purno A Sangma.

Soon after the swearing-in ceremony of the members of Parliament concluded on Tuesday afternoon, Prime Minister Vajpayee moved a motion proposing Balayogi's name as the new Speaker. BJP president and Home Minister Lal Kishinchand Advani seconded the candidature.

Balayogi was, thus, declared elected as Speaker by a voice vote by Pro Tem Speaker Indrajit Gupta. Before that the House rejected a motion moved by Opposition leader Sharad Pawar proposing Sangma's name.

Gupta also ruled that since there were 14 other motions proposing Sangma's name, he was not allowing them as Pawar's motion had been rejected. C Vidyasagar Rao withdrew his motion proposing TDP MP K Yerran Naidu's name as Speaker.

After his election, Balayogi was escorted to the Speaker's chair by Vajpayee and Pawar. Even as Balayogi called upon the prime minister to speak, there were shouts of 'shame shame'.

In his speech, Vajpayee said Balayogi's election was a sign of the changing times, and he had taken over at a difficult juncture. The prime minister said Balayogi was occupying a chair earlier adorned by luminaries like Sardar Patel and G V Mavalankar, and two former speakers -- Shivraj Patil and Sangma -- were now members of the House.

There were protests as Vajpayee said he was happy that Pawar as leader of the Opposition had facilitated in the smooth election process. When he was interrupted, he said angrily that if it was a crime to congratulate the new Speaker, then he was guilty of the crime. He said a few members could not hold the House to ransom.

Pawar said Balayogi had been entrusted with the onerous responsibility of strengthening democracy. He also noted that the nature of the mandate had placed a major responsibility on all members of the House.

Former Bihar chief minister Laloo Prasad Yadav, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and BSP leader Mayawati, former Punjab chief minister and Akali Dal leader Surjeet Singh Barnala also felicitated Balayogi on becoming Speaker.

Mayawati said she and her party staged a walkout earlier when the prime minister was speaking because she wanted some clarifications from Vajpayee who did not give her an opportunity to speak. It was in no way to show any disrespect to the Speaker's election, she clarified.

Soon after the election, sensing that the Congress and United Front had botched up the Speaker's election, both groups issued a joint statement.

The statement, signed by senior leaders like former prime ministers H D Deve Gowda and Chandra Shekhar, Geeta Mukherjee and Pawar, underlined the need for Opposition unity and better co-ordination between the UF and the Congress.

The statement alleged that the BJP indulged "in unethical politics and cheated Sangma." It warned that if Parliamentary Affairs Minister Madan Lal Khurana intends to operate the way he has done in this issue, it would be difficult to co-operate with him in future.

Balayogi, who represents the Amalapuram reserved constituency in Andhra Pradesh, is the first Dalit to become Lok Sabha Speaker in India.

Earlier in the day, the 12 TDP MPs who occupied the Opposition benches on Monday moved to the Treasury benches in the Lok Sabha following the deal clinched between the BJP leadership and the TDP president and AP Chief Minister Nara Chandrababu Naidu on the Speaker's selection.

Now that the Speaker's election has gone smoothly for the BJP, the Vajpayee government is all set to win the vote of confidence on Friday.

President Kocheril Raman Narayanan will address Parliament on Wednesday. While the House will carry out all financial matters through a vote on account on Thursday, the BJP-led government will seek a vote of confidence on Friday.

The BJP, which has managed to split the 13-party United Front and entice the Asom Gana Parishad, National Conference and TDP to support the Vajpayee government, is now confident of winning the crucial trust vote by winning 275 to 280 votes.

The BJP leadership is confident that the votes against the trust motion would not cross the 250-mark. Party sources hinted that there will be many surprise abstentions during voting "because the BJP is on a winning spree."

While Monday's dramatic political developments led to Balayogi's surprise election as Speaker, sources said the successful pact between the BJP and the TDP is certainly to continue soon after the Vajpayee government wins the confidence vote.

Though Naidu has claimed that the TDP will not join the BJP-led government at the Centre, many expect him to perform another somersault when Prime Minister Vajpayee expands the council of ministers in the first week of April.

Sources said the BJP leadership has offered Naidu a two-point formula to force the TDP to join the Vajpayee government. First, the TDP has been offered two Cabinet berths -- probably the ministries of agriculture and rural development -- and one minister of state berth in the government. The prime minister currently holds charge of the agriculture ministry.

Second, the Vajpayee regime has offered AP a special economic package to rescue the Naidu government from its financial problems.

Additional reportage by UNI

Elections '98

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