AS the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition Government completed its first hundred days in office, it became apparent that the mechanism it had devised to keep its disparate constituents in check had become ineffective. This was clear at the second meeting of the Coordination Committee of the BJP and its allies held in New Delhi at Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's residence on June 27.
Five of the BJP's allies - the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Tamizhaga Rajiv Congress, the Pattali Makkal Katch, the Lok Shakti and the Trinamul Congress - did not attend the meeting. AIADMK general secretary Jayalaitha cancelled her visit to Delhi citing ill-health and did not depute any of her Ministers or representatives to attend the meeting. PMK leader Dr. S. Ramadoss faxed a statement to the meeting, in which he demanded the imposition of President's Rule in Tamil Nadu. The statement said that leaders of the AIADMK-led front, including Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader Vaiko, supported the dismissal demand. Vaiko, the only representative of the AIADMK-led front at the meeting, did not deny this when the statement was read out at the meeting. Vaiko was earlier reported to be against the use of Article 356 to dismiss the State Government.
Lok Shakti leader Ramakrishna Hegde deputed his representative, Jeevraj Alva, to the meeting. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee, who recently suspended her support to Vajpayee Government only to restore it later, also did not attend.
The first meeting of the committee was held in May. The June 27 meeting was held in the backdrop of a war of words between the BJP and some of its allies. Appeals by BJP leaders to its allies not to air their differences in public, but to raise them at the Coordination Committee meeting, had had no impact.
Strains between the AIADMK and the BJP cast a shadow over the meeting. Faced with fresh demands from the AIADMK-led front for the dismissal of the DMK Government in Tamil Nadu and from the Samata Party for the dismissal of the Rabri Devi Government in Bihar, Vajpayee told the meeting: "Article 356 does exist in the Constitution. It is not redundant, nor will it never be used."
However, he said, the Government was not in favour of sacking democratically elected State governments unless there was a breakdown of the constitutional machinery. The Prime Minister took the stand that keeping in view the positions taken by President K.R. Narayanan and the Supreme Court on the issue, the Centre should not take recourse to this constitutional provision without adequate reason.
THE vulnerability of the Government, in view of the strident demands from some of the coalition partners, emboldened other small parties to make their own demands, including huge monetary demands, at the meeting. Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal, whose Haryana Vikas Party has just one member in the Lok Sabha, wanted the Centre to waive loans to the State amounting to Rs.2,500 crores, as had been done for Punjab by the United Front Government; he said that Haryana too had to cope with the consequences of insurgency in Punjab. Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal sought an increase in border area allocations. Naveen Patnaik of Biju Janata Dal wanted more funds allocated for Orissa.
Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha briefed the BJP's allies on the steps being taken to face the sanctions following the nuclear tests. He referred to the turnaround in the position of the World Bank on loans to India, evidence of re-thinking in the U.S. on the sanctions, and a modification in the position of the Group of 8 developed nations. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Jaswant Singh, who visited a number of Western capitals to present India's reasons for conducting the tests, claimed after the meeting that the allies endorsed the BJP leadership's decisiveness in conducting the tests.
The meeting did not discuss the recent controversies surrounding the AIADMK's "friendly warning" to the BJP and the despatch of Central teams to West Bengal and Bihar.