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BJP will stand by George: Jaitley

The party, accused of distancing itself from NDA convenor, is convinced about his integrity, reports Shekhar Iyer.

india Updated: Oct 11, 2006 21:07 IST

The BJP's defence of NDA convenor George Fernandes has been rather low key, but the party's general secretary Arun Jaitley says the BJP will stand by him.

Neither former Prime Minister AB Vajpayee nor LK Advani have spoken out yet in support of Fernandes following the CBI naming him in an FIR regarding corruption in the Rs 1,150-crore Barak deal with an Israeli firm in 2000.

Jaitley, however, said "senior BJP leaders have discussed the matter. We will stand by him. We will study the FIR. The honesty and integrity of Fernandes cannot be questioned."

Fernandes has been close to Vajpayee and Advani since the days of the emergency but, of late, the BJP has been distancing itself from his problems with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and Janata Dal(United) chief Sharad Yadav.

Though Fernandes remains NDA convenor, the BJP believes that, sooner or later, he will join the Samajwadi Party at the invitation of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav.

BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said, "Only this morning I spoke to Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. They wanted Fernandes to be strongly defended. The party is convinced of his integrity."

Jaitley said the CBI had failed to make out a case of corruption against Fernandes who was convinced, on the basis of recommendation of the Defence Ministry, that the Navy needed the missile system.

Jaitley and Javadekar reminded that the UPA had ordered seven Barak missile system in January in 2006 from the same suppliers when Fernandes was accused of ordering five systems.

The Barak system was selected after comparing the Russian and the French system much before the NDA assumed office and the BJP believed that the truth would prevail sooner than later.

"What is the charge against Fernandes? That he was strongly convinced about Barak? Are men of conviction dishonest?," asked Jaitley. "Till date, the indigenous missile system is not ready. Defence purchases are not decided by one person. A judicial commission of inquiry (Justice Phukan Commission) had failed to show any irregularity."

Jaitley said the BJP did not think that Fernandes was trying to blame President Abdul Kalam, who was then the scientific adviser in the Defence Ministry, for the purchase. In his first reaction to the charge, Fernandes had said "if they have to make any charge, then it should start with the President, who first called for it (the missile system), asked for it before I went into the government."

Javadekar said that, without the approval of the then Defence Minister's scientific adviser, the purchase could not take place. Kalam was the head of Defence Research Development Organisation when the system was approved, he said.

Jaitley said the action against Fernandes was part of the "vindictive Congress politics." The Congress had been targeting Fernandes for many years" to punish him for daring to fight the first family of Congress for five decades."

Javadekar said the Congress boycotted Fernandes in Parliament, accusing him of getting kickbacks in the purchase of coffins during the Kargil conflict and used it for elections, but ultimately the UPA government had to justify his actions before the court through an affidavit. "One CBI charge sheet can't destroy the impeccable selfless service of Fernandes."

Jaitley and Javadekar said the unfolding events proved that the CBI was listening to their 'political masters' which could be seen in the way they handled the Bofors case and the case relating to Railway Minister Lalu Prasad, allowing the cases to die down.