“There is no fear of the whip,” lamented a UPA floor manager. “Everybody is making love in public,” chuckled a BJP leader.
Read in conjunction, these remarks graphically summed up the chaos and confusion clouding the PM’s July 22 confidence motion. What initially seemed a cakewalk is turning out to be a hike across quicksand. Barn doors are being shut after the horses have bolted.
It’s the short interregnum between now and poll time — regardless of whether the vote is won or lost — that’s driving MPs into defying party whips in search of greener pastures. Some are looking for winning parties, some winnable constituencies, having lost their traditional seats to delimitation.
Sample this: Around 3.30pm on Friday, Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda sat persuading Karnal MP Arvind Sharma in Parliament’s Central Hall while insinuations of his turncoat act were across channels. The renegade left a while later, his body telling more than the sweet-nothings he served Hooda.
The same evening, a witness to the Central Hall meeting heard from a Congress MP at SP leader Amar Singh’s residence that Sharma approached him on Mayawati’s power of attorney: “Aap bhi aa jao is taraf.”
The realisation that the SP was unable to keep its flock of 39 intact caused deep anxiety in the Congress camp, crippled as much by the JMM, RLD and the JD-S’s hard-to-get stance. Calls to a Deve Gowda confidant on the timing of his meeting with the PM on Saturday, evoked a standard response: “Abhi time nahin diya hai.” He laughed heartily when asked who hadn’t confirmed the appointment — Gowda or the PM?
On a veritable crow’s flight from one hiding spot to another since his arrival here, winning back Shibu Soren, consciously cold-shouldered after the murder case trial, was proving as difficult for the UPA’s crisis managers. The bribery case that arose from his party’s support to Narasimha Rao in 1993 left Soren wiser and deeply suspicious of his people. There are stories galore about which of his sons he trusts more: Hemant, Durga or Basant?
Congress emissaries who reached out to ‘Guruji’ included a couple of industrialist-politicians. A few among them returned with the impression that Hemant, engaged big-time in the construction business, exercised greater influence.
A safe conclusion in the midst of such conflicting images was that abstentions from the rival side could save the government. Members' proclivity to defy party whips can cut either way.