November 30, 2010 4:23:43 am
In a major embarrassment to the BJP,senior leader Arun Shourie has claimed that his party had replaced him as the lead speaker for the discussion on the Union Budget at the last moment last year fearing that he may oppose a proposal in the Budget which would have helped industrialist Mukesh Ambani,a charge vehemently denied by the BJP.
Shourie,who has been sidelined by the BJP leadership after he spoke about the need for fixing accountability after the Lok Sabha election last year,said the party had asked him to initiate the debate on the Budget and he had made adequate preparations.
I was asked to open the debate on the Budget,I worked for one week to speak on the matter and at the last minute,after I reached the House,I was told that the previous night Venkaiah Naidu had decided to speak suddenly. Therefore as he had been party president he will speak first. My turn would come after all the 13-14 speakers have spoken and then I would be the second speaker for the party, Shourie told Karan Thapar on CNN-IBNs Devils Advocate programme.
His claim was in the context of leaked phonetaps of a conversation between corporate lobbyist Niira Radia who represents Mukesh Ambani and JD(U) leader N K Singh wherein the latter said he had arranged for replacing Shourie with Naidu as the lead speaker from the party during the Budget in 2009.
When asked whether the change was made for fear that he would have taken a hard position on the proposal,Shourie said Yes,it was certainly their objective. I mean its clear from the tapes that was the objective. They may have apprehended this because I had spoken about that particular proposal in an adverse way in a party meeting…I may or may not have spoken about this on the floor of the House.
When contacted,both Naidu and Singh denied the allegations. Naidu told The Indian Express that the party leadership had decided well in advance that Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley would initiate the debate on the Presidents address and I would lead the discussion on Budget. I prepared for a week.
BJPs Deputy Leader in Rajya Sabha S S Ahluwalia too spoke in similar vein.
I spoke extensively touching upon each and every issue. My speech itself was around 30 pages. I spoke about infrastructure,mentioned economic survey,touched upon issues like projects initiated by the Vajpayee government lagging behind,ballooning fiscal deficit,inflation so on and so forth. I could not have prepared such an extensive speech in a day, he said.
Naidu said he didnt know Radia and Singh hadnt spoken to him. I dont know who is Niira Radia. N K Singh did not speak to me at all regarding this. We are governed by our party and its principles not by other party people. He said the BJP had consciously decided not to get into the feud between the Ambani brothers. It is known to everybody.
In one of the leaked Radia tapes,Singh claims: One of the complications in this is that,between you and me,Mr Arun Shourie has gone and got himself completely on the other side (Anil Ambani side). Because he has been promised a Rajya Sabha (ticket) by Tony (Jesudasan,Anil Ambanis media manager and lobbyist) and company.
Shourie is speaking as a listed speaker in the Rajya Sabha for the BJP. But fortunately what we have managed to do is make him Arun (Shourie) the second speaker and made Venkaiah (Naidu,another BJP member),the first, he tells Radia.
Singh says if Venkaiah is the first speaker,and he already takes a party line,then it will be very difficult for Shourie in his second intervention to take a different line. Then we have to orchestrate who will speak,you know,this is the immediate problem right now.
Singh,when contacted by The Indian Express,admitted to the conversation but said he did not influence the BJP leadership on its choice of speakers.
Regarding the selection of who should open the debate,this is not a matter which could be decided by me. It was for the BJP leadership to take the decision in accordance with the conventions of the party. Any such conversation was more in the nature of a social chat. At no stage,and this can be ascertained from the BJP leadership,did I try to influence their choice of speakers much less the contents of their speech, he said.
He said the the conversation was in the nature of a social informal chat which cannot be subjected to a hindsight dissection of this nature and argued that no informal conversations are ever made as if later they would be put to the test of the Indian Evidence Act.
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