Sources close to the duo say the expectation was that enough momentum would be built up to discredit the original Tehelka story and rehabilitate Fernandes in the defence ministry. Says a senior Samata MP, "He's desperate to return to the cabinet in the next expansion, expected around mid-September. We had been given an inkling that some dramatic revelation would make it possible for him to do so."
But events haven't followed the George/ Jaya script. Some Samata and bjp MPs may have made the expected noises about Fernandes' innocence, but no one has suggested that he should be reinducted before the Venkataswami Commission clears him.
And herein lies the rub. Contrary to assurances given at the time of his resignation, the commission is in no hurry to submit its report. Now sources close to Fernandes say he smells a conspiracy to keep him out of government. Says a Samata minister, "If the commission's present pace is any indication, there will be no Vajpayee government left for George to join."
Clearly, Fernandes could be facing the worst political crisis of his career. His grip over his own Samata Party has slipped ever since the Tehelka expose. MPs earlier loyal to him now pledge allegiance to Nitish Kumar. Adding a twist to the tale, Nitish has stated publicly that Fernandes cannot return to the cabinet till the commission submits its report.
Fernandes has been desperately seeking a political role since his resignation as defence minister. It is only in the last month that his services were again sought by Vajpayee, to help manage the nda alliance after the failure of the Agra talks.
In fact, Vajpayee is the only senior leader keen to see Fernandes return. Home minister L.K. Advani is wary of him. Most nda leaders are suspicious of his overweening ambition. Nobody seems to want the man who prides himself as a master of the political game. Today he cuts a sorry picture. A man believed to harbour prime ministerial ambitions now finds it impossible to wriggle back into the cabinet.