Government walks the tightrope over numbers game

July 18th, 2008 - 3:02 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh
By Liz Mathew
New Delhi, July 18 (IANS) With just four days remaining for the do-or-die trust vote in parliament, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) is struggling to keep its flock together amid indications of defections and cross-voting in the ruling coalition. The task managers of the ruling Congress and the UPA are still keeping their fingers crossed about the number of votes they are expecting on July 22 to save Prime Minister Manmohan SIngh’s government. Although senior Congress leaders are claiming the UPA would get 275-280 votes against 259 of the opposition and the Left parties, the “undecided” smaller parties are giving them sleepless nights and in many ways hold the key to the survival of the government.

While Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) demanded re-naming of Lucknow’s Amausi airport in his father, former prime minister Charan Singh’s name in exchange for the votes of his three MPs - and then cryptically said that Thursday’s announcement on this had come too “late” - Janata Dal-Secular leader and former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda sought nationalisation of iron ore mines in Bellary in Karnataka as a quid pro quo.

Although Gowda has three MPs in his party on record, one of them - Kerala leader M.P. Veerendra Kumar - is not likely to vote in favour of the UPA. The Kerala unit of the JD-S is part of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Democratic Front in the state.

Another crucial party, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), has not yet made up its mind to vote in support of Manmohan Singh despite being a part of the UPA. Its leader Shibu Soren, who had been forced to resign as coal minister in 2006 after he was convicted for murder, publicly demanded his ministry back.

According to sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is also determined to oust the Congress-led government from power, the party has approached Soren offering him the chief ministership of Jharkhand, where it says it can dethrone the state UPA government.

However, the Congress is believed to have received assurances from Soren’s party colleagues, including Hemlal Murmu, who attended the UPA meeting last week at Manmohan Singh’s residence, about support the party’s support to it.

The public announcement of the Telangana Rastra Samiti (TRS) that it would vote against the trust motion has shocked the Congress leadership.

The party is now pinning hopes on some of the NDA MPs who may abstain from voting, Congress sources say.

There is also speculation over possible defections from both sides. While the BJP claims they would get at least four MPs from the Congress, including some from Karnataka, to vote against the government, the Congress also says that there were few from the BJP and the NDA ready for cross-voting.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who is constantly in touch with senior ministers and party leaders, has asked the general secretaries and state convenors to take all possible measures to keep the party MPs together.

The Congress president will begin meeting her party MPs state-wise Saturday morning. All the party MPs have been directed to be in the national capital Saturday.

The same is the case of the Left parties that have vowed to see the government’s exit over the contentious India-US civil nuclear deal, as well as the BJP. After CPI-M general secretary Prakash Karat’s meeting with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati earlier this week, his CPI counterpart A.B. Bardhan met RLD chief Ajit Singh Thursday to persuade him to defeat the government.

BJP president Rajnath Singh and senior leader M. Venkaiah Naidu have also been talking to the smaller parties to woo them.

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