Today's Paper

Fernandes asked to keep away

NEW DELHI, DEC. 30. The Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, in the eye of the storm, in recent days, over the `coffin scam' was conspicuous by his absence from today's all-party meeting convened by the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee. Mr. Fernandes, on a tour of the forward areas, was not asked to come back for the meeting, in order to avoid bad blood.

The Opposition parties have been protesting against the reinduction of Mr. Fernandes into the Cabinet before the completion of the Venkataswami commission, set up in the wake of the Tehelka expose. However, the demand for his resignation has become shriller after the CAG report was made public.

Mr. Fernandes was boycotted by the Opposition during the entire winter session of Parliament with some of them refusing to even pose questions to him.

The Defence Minister's absence was noted at today's meeting by the Trinamool Congress leader, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, and the NCP leader, Mr. P.A. Sangma, who inquired about his whereabouts. The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, admitted that though Mr. Fernandes was busy visiting the border areas, he did not urge him to attend in order to avoid a controversy at the meeting, at a time when the country should stand united.

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