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Tuesday, April 21, 1998

Hegde rules out resignation, defends Vajpayee 

Prema Viswanathan  
SINGAPORE, April 20: Unfazed by communications minister Buta Singh's resignation on Monday, commerce minister Ramakrishna Hegde is confident that he will not suffer the same fate as his colleague.

And this is despite the fact that Jayalalitha is continuing to bay for his blood as also that of urban development minister Ram Jethmalani, accused of being involved in a Fera violation case.

"Buta Singh's case is very different from that of the two of us," insisted the commerce minister, now in Bangkok to attend the ongoing ESCAP meet.

In a telephonic interview with The Financial Express, Hegde maintained that Buta Singh should have resigned on his own, since he had been charged in the JMM bribery case. "I would have done the same had I faced any charges," he said. "But the fact is, both Jethmalani and I have not been charged, so there is no reason why we should quit our posts. Besides, the cases which are being quoted against us are absolutely without foundation."

If former union surface transportminister S Muthiah was asked to resign because he had been charged with illegal acquisition of assets disproportionate to his income, the same criterion had to be applied to Buta Singh, he said.

"I have always said there should be only one principle for all. There cannot be two sets of rules for two individuals," he pointed out.

Hegde described the cases against him, invoked by the AIADMK leader, as "fantastic nonsense", and the "work of professional blackmailers". There was no case at all, he insisted, dismissing Jayalalitha's contention that he had been found guilty by the Kuldip Singh commission of allegedly misusing his office as Karnataka chief minister in a land scam, and in a Rs 2.50 crore corruption case filed by the Karnataka corps of detectives.

"If there had been any real charges against me, I would have resigned at once. After all, I have done so on several past occasions," he recalled.

"I even resigned from the deputy chairmanship of the Planning Commission when allegations were levelledagainst me about telephone tapping." The only occasion when he was chargesheeted, he remembers, was during the Emergency, when "I was perceived to be a security risk".

Asked to comment on his colleague Ram Jethmalani's recent statements calling upon the prime minister not to bow to Jayalalitha's pressure tactics, and that Subramaniam Swamy was behind the BJP-led government's recent troubles, he retorted, "everyone would agree with that."

The BJP-led coalition has been plunged into its worst political crisis after the resignation of Muthiah, with Jayalalitha dashing off a letter to the prime minister, demanding that all three "tainted" ministers, Buta Singh, Ram Jethmalani and Ramkrishna Hegde, should also give up their posts.

She has already claimed one victim in Buta Singh. It remains to be seen whether Vajpayee will allow her to get her way in the case of the other two.According to Hegde, there is no way he will buckle under. The prime minister will go according to the rule of law, which states thatonly those who are charged should be regarded as culpable -- is his rationale.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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