Ahead of the crucial July 22 confidence vote, the Aya Ram-Gaya Ram syndrome seemed to be threatening the Congress. And it is happening in Haryana, the state that infamously pioneered floor-crossing four decades back.
Its then Chief Minister Bhajan Lal repeated it wholesale in 1980 by shifting loyalty to the Congress with a busload of Janata Party MLAs.
On Friday, Karnal MP Arvind Sharma deserted the Congress for the BSP even as the party’s crisis managers desperately tried to work up the numbers. The ball was set rolling some months ago by Bhajan Lal’s son Kuldeep Bishnoi, the Congress MP from Bhiwani, when he floated his own regional outfit.
The party’s biggest worry now is Mayawati’s drawing power in the state. For now, Sirsa Dalit MP Atma Singh Gill has dismissed speculation that he was abandoning the Congress. Even as his denial came, intelligence reports suggested that a Haryana Gujjar MP was planning to switch sides.
On a day when the Congress swung between hope and despair, its projections of a victory on the strength of abstentions from the rival camp took a blow with the Akali Dal issuing a whip to its MPs to vote against Manmohan Singh’s motion.
The party was also worried whether the SP would deliver on the promised 35 of its 38 MPs. Nearly half of the 10 SP members who did not show up for its parliamentary party meeting on Friday are on the suspect list.
Some relief for the Congress on Friday, came with JMM’s elusive chief Shibu Soren establishing contact with the party and raising hopes of five of its MPs coming on board.
The party is hoping that along with RLD (3), JD-S (2) and MDMK (2), this will help them cross the magic 272 figure. A favourable stance by NC’s two members will be a bonus. “We’d be comfortable if we can get some BJP members to absent themselves,” said a Congress leader.
Soren wants to be installed as Jharkhand CM but is being persuaded to have a Cabinet berth for himself — together with a junior slot or two for other party MPs.
A meeting of the Congress’ Core Group — which includes the PM and Sonia Gandhi — discussed the issue on Friday. Soren kept his cards close to his chest but senior JMM leader Teklal Mahto said the JMM has been part of the UPA since 2004 and would decide its stand on the nuclear deal later.
HD Deve Gowda’s promise to meet the Prime Minister on Saturday has raised hopes of a possible understanding between the Congress and the three-MP JD(S). Veerendra Kumar, one of these three, has said he will vote against the UPA. “But until the talks happen, we cannot say anything,’’ said a Congress leader. Ditto for Ajit Singh’s RLD with three members in the House.
“Unless we get these 12 MPs on our side, it will be a touch and go affair,’’ remarked a floor manager. Officially, the Congress continued to claim support of “280-plus members’’ in the House.
LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan was more realistic. He projected a figure of 276. The battle for wooing the fence-sitters will intensify when UNPA leader Chandrababu Naidu arrives in Delhi on Saturday.