Amid din and UPA hopes, Rahul makes an impact (Roundup Debate)

July 22nd, 2008 - 5:22 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 22 (IANS) India’s ruling coalition was Tuesday brimming with confidence ahead of a trust vote on the nuclear deal with the US as Congress MP Rahul Gandhi made an impassioned pitch for energy security while battling repeated interruptions from opposition benches. Speaking mainly in English, Gandhi narrated tales of his meetings with poor women in villages to draw a link between their lives and the contentious India-US nuclear deal, which led to the Left’s withdrawal of support to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government, causing a political crisis.

But as the day opened Tuesday, the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) exuded confidence that it would win the trust vote comfortably, partly due to the expected absenteeism of about 10 unattached MPs as well as members from the opposition ranks.

Like Monday, the final day of the debate Tuesday was also marred by disruptions, forcing an exasperated Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to adjourn the house amid disruptions and remark: “The parliament of India has reached the lowest position, its nadir.” Chatterjee also got into a spat with furious Communist MPs.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad claimed the UPA enjoyed the support of “unlimited MPs”. Asked if it would get over 280 votes in the 545-member Lok Sabha, he flashed the victory sign - like the prime minister a couple of hours earlier.

But the prime minister did not respond to media queries whether the UPA was confident of winning the trust vote. “We are making all efforts to keep our MPs together and united and we will be successful as we have the numbers to prove the majority,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told IANS.

Inside the house, in a clear dig at the Communists, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram cited Beijing’s ambitious nuclear power plans to push the nuclear deal, saying “there are some people in India who do not want us to catch up with China”.

“I don’t want to envy China. I want to emulate China. I want India to become an economic superpower. We must aspire to greater heights,” he said, stressing that the purpose of the deal was to end India’s nuclear isolation.

Lalu Prasad also mocked at the Communists for their opposition to the nuclear deal and for joining hands with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in opposing the government.

The worry in the opposition ranks was palpable. With only hours left for the Tuesday evening vote in parliament, none of the opposition leaders were in smiles although a few of them publicly continued to claim that the UPA was set to lose the vote - and power.

The BJP asked the Lok Sabha speaker to disqualify two of its dissident MPs who had vowed to support the government to send a tough signal to other MPs sitting on the fence. One of them is Uttar Pradesh MP Braj Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has thrown his lot with the Samajwadi Party, and Gujarat MP Sombhai Patel.

The BJP was also bringing its ailing MPs to New Delhi, including Harishchandra Chavan, who was recovering from a road accident in Maharashtra.

Lalu Prasad’s party colleague Pappu Yadav, released from jail to vote in parliament, caused some commotion in the Lok Sabha when he accused BJP leader Vijay Kumar Malhotra of trying to lure him to his side. An angry Malhotra denied this. Also present in the house was another jailed MP, Mohammad Shahabuddin.

Amid all this, Rahul Gandhi tried to make a mark in the Lok Sabha with a speech that he said he was making not as “a member of a political party but as an Indian”, triggering some derisive remarks from opposition members.

Unfazed by disruptions, the Congress general secretary pleaded with protesting MPs to let him speak for at least 10 minutes - but ended up taking much more time.

“We have to solve our problems together… We are a country of a billion people, 70 percent of us are young and it is important to realise that this country is brimming with confidence… We have to believe in our people, we have to have confidence.”

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