UPA earnestly woos small parties as D-day draws near (Roundup)

July 18th, 2008 - 12:44 am ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, July 17 (IANS) With just four days to go before it faces a crucial trust vote in parliament, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government Thursday stepped up its efforts to bridge the shortfall in numbers by openly wooing the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which has three members in the Lok Sabha. The government decided to rename an airport after RLD chief Ajit Singh’s father, the late former prime minister Charan Singh, even as the Left tried equally hard to win him over.

A cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took the decision to rename the Amausi airport in the Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow after Charan Singh in an apparent attempt to win the support of the RLD chief, whose three MPs could be vital in the trust vote on July 22.

Within an hour of that announcement, Communist Party of India (CPI) general secretary A.B. Bardhan drove to Ajit Singh’s house to explain the Lefts’ position on the India-US civil nuclear deal - why they had withdrawn support to the government over it - in an effort to make the RLD MPs vote against the government Tuesday.

The government needs 271 votes in the Lok Sabha to win the trust vote. By the latest count in a fluid situation, it has 263 votes, the opposition has 259 and 20 MPs are undecided.

In another development, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, addressing a rally in Andhra Pradesh, hit out at the Left and said the government would not compromise on national security, the nuclear programme and foreign policy.

In her first public remarks after the Left withdrew support to the UPA, Gandhi said: “The nuclear agreement is in the best interest of the country. Future generations will recognise the value of this nuclear agreement and what the prime minister is doing today.”

She hit out at the Left and the opposition for their criticism on the deal and said the Congress did not need a certificate from anyone on patriotism and national interests.

“Which party gave India the independence and an independent foreign policy? It is the Congress party and no other party. It is the Congress party which launched and strengthened the nuclear programme. We need the support of other parties but we don’t need a certificate from any party on our patriotism and national interests.”

Meanwhile, an Indian team comprising senior officials of the external affairs ministry and the department of atomic energy that includes Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon and R.B. Grover, the chief negotiator of the India-specific safeguards agreement, left for Vienna to brief the IAEA board and Nuclear Suppliers Group countries on its proposed safeguards pact on Friday.

The special briefing, that coincides with the third anniversary of the July 18, 2005 India-US civil nuclear understanding, will be held at a place outside the premises of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Menon and Grover, who is also the director of strategic planning in the department of atomic energy, will be joined by Indian Ambassador in Vienna Saurabh Singh Friday, an official source said here.

Earlier, India had decided to brief 140 member countries of the IAEA on the safeguards pact and different aspects of the India-US nuclear deal, but then scaled down the briefing in view of the trust vote the Manmohan Singh government is facing July 22.

Of the 35 nations in the IAEA board, 26 are NSG members. The remaining 19 NSG countries have also been invited for the briefing in the run-up to the board’s scheduled meeting in Vienna Aug 1.

The IAEA board will have to approve the India-specific safeguards pact before the 45-nation NSG decides on amending its guidelines to restore global nuclear trade with India.

India will get added support from US Under Secretary of State William Burns, who will also be in Vienna Friday to seek support for the nuclear deal.

As the UPA continued its efforts to garner the support of smaller parties, the BJP said the government was “slipping in numbers” and will not be able to survive the July 22 confidence vote. Chief ministers of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states passed a resolution to ensure defeat of the government in the trust vote.

“The NDA has decided unanimously that this government should go,” BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley said here Thursday. He said the Shiromani Akali Dal, a key alliance partner, would vote against the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.

The Janata Dal-S of H.D. Deve Gowda is expected to take a stand only by Friday while Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leader Shibu Soren is yet to spell out his position clearly. Party insiders claimed he is reportedly demanding a cabinet berth in return for his party’s support. The JMM has five MPs.

The Congress was hoping to get the support of the National Conference, but has not received any commitment yet from its president Omar Abdullah.

Meanwhile, a Kolkata-based lawyer Thursday moved the Supreme Court seeking a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the sources of allegedly huge wealth of 10 Communist leaders, including Prakash Karat.

The other Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leaders whose sources of wealth advocate Joydeep Mukherjee wanted to be probed by the CBI include Karat’s wife and Rajya Sabha member Brinda Karat and MP Nilotpal Basu.

Mukherjee, secretary of the Kolkata-based All India Legal Aid Forum, contended in his petition that these Marxist leaders claim to be merely party leaders and get a monthly sum of Rs.3,000 for party works just like other 7,000 party workers who get their subsistence allowance.

The advocate said despite such a meagre source of income, these leaders have declared assets to the tune of Rs.5 million each to the Election Commission during the 2004 general elections and the subsequent elections for the Rajya Sabha or the West Bengal assembly.

Mukherjee also sought the actual valuation of the entire assets of the CPI-M, saying that while the party values its assets at Rs.2 billion, the actual market value of these assets is not less than Rs.50 billion.

The petition was filed under article 32 of the constitution that is invoked by a petitioner in case of violation of one’s fundamental rights.

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