Amid uncertainties, UPA battles for numbers (Second lead)

July 20th, 2008 - 5:07 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 20 (IANS) Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s beleaguered ruling coalition battled Sunday to secure numbers to remain in power, just a day before parliament meets to decide the government’s fate over the India-US nuclear deal. Both the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and a disparate opposition were vigorously wooing still undecided independent MPs as well as small parties to reach the crucial figure of 272 in the 545-member Lok Sabha where one seat is vacant and one MP is barred from voting.

For the Congress-led UPA, there was good and bad news Sunday.

After initially hinting that he would go with the Congress, Ajit Singh dealt a blow to the government by announcing that his Uttar Pradesh-based Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which has three MPs, would vote against UPA. The Janata Dal-Secular, which too has three MPs, followed suit hours later.

But Congress party managers had some reason to cheer with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) finally ending days of suspense and deciding to support the ruling coalition in Tuesday’s vote, expected late at night. JMM has five MPs.

DMK MP Dayanidhi Maran, estranged grand-nephew of party chief and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, also announced he would vote for the government. And so did the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), whose sole MP Asaduddin Owaisi said in Hyderabad that he considered the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a greater evil than the nuclear deal.

On another hectic day, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati was the centre of much attraction as she attended a lunch hosted by Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N. Chandrababu Naidu. Other invitees included Communist leaders including Prakash Karat and A.B. Bardhan and leaders of the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD), Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and Janata Dal-Secular.

Elsewhere in the city, Samajwadi Party leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh — who have become the most vocal supporters of the government — lampooned the BJP and their former ally, the Left.

“Lal Jhanda aur Lal Krishna Advani ek ho gaye hain!” declared Mulayam Singh, the former Uttar Pradesh chief minister, referring to the Communist Red flag and the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate.

The withdrawal of support July 9 to the UPA coalition by the four Left parties (59 MPs) over the nuclear deal and the Samajwadi Party’s decision to keep in it power with its 39 MPs have produced an unheard of war of words between these two long-term political partners.

In the process, after over four years of rule, the Congress-led government has been left to desperately hunt for MPs and parties who will vote for it or at least abstain from the house to help it indirectly.

The first shock Sunday to the UPA came from Ajit Singh, son of former prime minister Charan Singh. “RLD will vote against the government in the confidence motion,” he said after a breakfast meeting with Mayawati.

A desperate Congress had decided to rename Lucknow’s Amausi airport after Charan Singh. But that failed to impress Ajit Singh.

“The Congress is run by Amar Singh,” he said. “We also discussed the performance of the government in the last four years and also the nuclear deal.”

After days of playing hide and seek, JMM chief Shibu Soren declared after meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi Sunday morning that his party would “vote for the Congress and the UPA”.

“There have been lot of talks, some good and some bad. Our MPs took a decision after seeing the current political situation,” he told reporters.

Soren said that in return for his party’s support, the JMM had been offered “two central ministerial berths” and the post of deputy chief minister in Jharkhand to his son.

In Chennai, Dayanidhi Maran told a news conference: “I will abide by the decision of the party on whose ticket I was elected to the Lok Sabha.”

The Samajwadi Party admitted Sunday that only 35 of its 39 Lok Sabha MPs would side with the government. However, another party MP, the jailed Atiq Ahmed, said he would vote against the government.

The rapid turn of events Sunday have reportedly put both the UPA and NDA at par in the Lok Sabha with 269 MPs each — amid the possibility that the game of numbers can go either way.

With Mayawati threatening to wean away more MPs from the Samajwadi Party in the run-up to the trust vote, the ruling coalition was working overtime to keep its constituents together.

Also Sunday, BJP leader L.K. Advani told a meeting here that the political crisis was the ruling coalition’s own making.

“It is true that Manmohan Singh’s government has plunged into a deep crisis - a crisis that is its own making,” Advani said. “Whether it will survive or not will be known on the night of July 22.”

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