Left leaves UPA government in minority, Samajwadi Party steps in (Second Intro Roundup)

July 9th, 2008 - 12:30 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 8 (IANS) India’s ruling coalition was Tuesday reduced to a minority with the Left withdrawing its support, ending four years of an often uneasy relationship that ended in divorce over differences on the nuclear deal with the US. But the Samajwadi Party quickly stepped in to fill the gap and announced support for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. As the Samajwadi Party announced in the Indian capital that its 39 Lok Sabha members would back the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on the nuclear deal and support the government in a trust vote, a confident Manmohan Singh told journalists in Japan on the sidelines of the G8 summit: “The Left pulling out will not affect the stability of the government.”

That stability would be put to the test soon. As the day of hectic political activity drew to a close, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee after talking to Manmohan Singh over telephone announced that the government would seek a trust vote “as soon as it received a communication from the president to do so”.

The months of high-voltage drama ended at the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) headquarters here where its general secretary Prakash Karat said the time had come for the Left to end their backing after Manmohan Singh’s public decision to approach the IAEA “very soon” to take ahead the civilian nuclear deal.

“As you are aware, the Left parties had decided that if the government goes to the IAEA Board of Governors, they will withdraw support,” Karat said, reading out a letter sent 90 minutes earlier to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee. “In view of the prime minister’s announcement (on his way to Japan), that time has come.”

Mukherjee, the government’s chief interlocutor with the Left over the nuclear deal, was quick to respond.

Refuting the Left’s allegation that the government refused to share the IAEA safeguards pact text with them, Mukherjee wrote to Karat pointing out that it was a confidential record and that the communists should have joined the government to get access to it.

Karat said leaders of the CPI-M, Communist Party of India (CPI), Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) and Forward Bloc would meet President Pratibha Patil Wednesday noon to formally submit a letter withdrawing their legislative support to the Congress-led UPA government.

The announcement of the Left withdrawal - although widely expected - triggered a political furore.

Political analysts said the decision of the 59 Left MPs and two MPs of the Kerala Congress-J that support it would bring down the multi-party UPA’s strength in the 545-seat Lok Sabha to 226. This would go up to 265 with the support of the Samajwadi Party’s 39 MPs but leave it still seven short of the 272 MPs needed for majority support.

On Tuesday, the Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh (3 MPs) and the Peoples Democratic Party of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed (1 MP) said they would stand by the UPA on the nuclear deal. The Janata Dal-Secular, which too has three MPs, is too likely to back the government.

The Indian Union Muslim League and the National Conference were undecided. The Akali Dal, the Biju Janata Dal and the Shiv Sena - part of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) - clarified they would oppose the nuclear deal, and impliedly the government on the trust vote.

The BJP held a meeting of its leaders at the house of its prime ministerial hopeful L.K. Advani and asked the UPA government to seek a vote of confidence.

Foe-turned-friend Samajwadi Party was the saviour of the day for the Congress-led government.

Party president Mulayam Singh Yadav announced his party’s support to the ruling coalition but clarified that it would not join the government.

“We welcome the nuclear deal and back Manmohan Singh’s decision to go ahead to the IAEA for the next step in the deal,” he told reporters here. “If there is a vote in parliament, we will support the prime minister and the nuclear deal.”

Samajwadi Party general secretary Amar Singh met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in the evening and said his party would present to the president a fresh letter of support to the UPA government.

Unfortunately, there were chinks in the Samajwadi Party ranks too. Of its 39 MPs, only 29 attended the parliamentary party meeting. Yadav covered up with a brave “we are one and we unanimously support the nuclear deal and the government”. But the murmurs of discontent were audible.

Jayaprakash Rawat, MP from Mohanlalganj in Lucknow district who was one of those who did not attend the meeting, said: “Mulayam has taken the decision on his own to support the Congress on the nuclear deal. The party has not briefed us or consulted us on the deal. I am not against Mulayam but I am against nuclear deal.”

Nonetheless, the Congress said it was confident of surviving the crisis.

“We have the numbers and we will prove our majority in the house (Lok Sabha),” Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed said.

Added chief Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi: “We are confident that we will have the (nuclear) deal… Things will go on. There are a large number of people in parliament who do not think like the BJP or the Left.”

The party is also discussing the names for a new Lok Sabha speaker as CPI-M leader Somnath Chatterjee’s exit is almost certain.

Congress sources said it was looking to break the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and woo some of the smaller parties to shore up its numbers in the badly divided Lok Sabha.

While the numbers game engaged much attention, there was plenty of anger too.

Congress general secretary M. Veerappa Moily attacked the Left for taking such a step when the nation was “mourning” those who were killed in the Kabul blast Monday.

“When the entire nation is mourning those killed in the Kabul blast, the Left has chosen to make the announcement. It is most unfortunate. They think their prestige is more important than the nation’s prestige,” Moily told reporters here.

Within minutes of the Left withdrawing support to the government, Indian equities rose impressively on major bourses, anticipating friendlier policies towards the corporate sector. And India Inc voiced the hope that the slow-moving economic reforms programme would now be put on the fast track.

Away from domestic compulsions were the international commitments still to be met.

Though there was no immediate reaction with US President George Bush in Japan for the G8 meeting - where he will also meet Manmohan Singh - the White House had just hours before the withdrawal reiterated that its commitment to the deal but pointed to the limited time left to complete the process.

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