Congress seeks new props as UPA-Left break-up imminent (Lead)

June 26th, 2008 - 7:39 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

New Delhi, June 26 (IANS) As speculation mounted about its future with the Left-United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partnership on the verge of breaking up, the government Thursday asserted that there was no threat to it. The ruling Congress also stepped up efforts to keep the government afloat by initiating discussions with allies on the much debated India-US civil nuclear deal. “There is no threat to the government,” Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Privthviraj Chavan said, a day after the ruling coalition ended a crucial meeting with the Left parties without any breakthrough on the deal.

With the Left making it abundantly clear that it would withdraw support if the government goes ahead with the pact, the Congress is being forced to look at early elections - and partners - to tide it through the crisis.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) and its left allies provide vital support to the government with 61 MPs in the Lok Sabha.

According to Congress insiders, the party is desperately looking for a stop-gap arrangement if that prop goes. If the Left withdraws its legislative support, the Congress-led government would need the help of smaller parties to cross the halfway mark of 271 in the Lok Sabha.

According to Congress sources, party leaders have begun backroom discussions with the Samajwadi Party that has 39 MPs as well as former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda’s Janata Dal-Secular (3 MPs), Uttar Pradesh leader Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (3) and UPA’s estranged ally Telangana Rashtra Samiti (3).

As the debate over the deal intensifies, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is keen on holding discussions on the options before the UPA with its allies. The Congress has been under pressure from its poll-wary allies, who are against taking any steps that would disrupt UPA-Left ties.

Taking the support of the Samajwadi Party is one way out. But no final decision has been taken, says a Congress leader.

Congress leaders claimed the Samajwadi Party had already expressed its willingness to back the government in a critical stage. “However, the party is still undecided on whether to take its support because it is famous for playing the politics of convenience. Many Congress leaders feel we cannot trust its leaders,” admitted a senior Congress minister who did not want to be identified.

The Samajwadi Party, on its part, has indicated that it does not mind extending support to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government. A final decision, party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav has said, would be taken July 3 in a meeting of the Third Front parties, the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA).

The Samajwadi Party has its compulsions too. While its ally in the UNPA, the Telegu Desam Party (TDP), is dead against any pact with the Congress, the Left is also trying to stop it by rekindling hopes of a non-Congress, non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Third Front.

TDP MP M.V. Mysoora Reddy ruled out any ties between the Samajwadi Party and the Congress. “We have not received any communication from the Samajwadi Party regarding their supporting Congress party. It is still with us,” Reddy told IANS in Hyderabad.

In the “tense” UPA-Left nuclear committee meeting Wednesday, the Communists clarified in writing that they would withdraw support if the government decided to go ahead and finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) despite their opposition.

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