The murky backroom battle to gain control of India see-sawed all of Sunday as the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) appeared to be just two short of the 272 votes it needs — before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh comes to the Lok Sabha on Monday to move a one-line motion to seek the House’s confidence in his council of ministers.
But victory is not certain. The Opposition numbers at midnight on Sunday stood at 266, just four short of the UPA’s figures as hectic meetings continued into the night. The Congress tried to keep its flock intact by asking party leaders — also deputed to snatch Opposition MPs — to host dinners, breakfasts and lunches.
The numbers game will continue its roller-coaster ride over the next two days. As the debate before the trust vote unfolds over at least 16 hours, one-member parties and MPs are out to strike it rich or push their pet projects either through the UPA or the Opposition (graphic).
An example: Ladakh MP Thupstan Chhewang. “My demand is for a union territory status for Ladakh,’’ he said. Only the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been sympathetic. But he’s clearly offering his vote to the UPA — provided he gets what he wants.
There were claims and counter claims from both camps about numbers that would save the government — or bring it down. The ruling coalition claimed the confidence of a “comfortable majority”. But the CPM’s Prakash Karat declared that “the government is doomed”. The BSP’s Mayawati continued her attempts to emerge as the nucleus of a third front and position herself as PM.
The boost to the UPA came from five JMM MPs with party leader Shibu Soren saying he was again become Coal Minister; BJP MP-turned-rebel Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh from UP’s Balrampur, JD-U’s Ram Swaroop from Bihar CM Nitish Kumar’s constituency Nalanda; and Loktantrik Party MP Baleshwar Yadav. The lone Bodoland People’s Front member S.K. Bwiswmuthiary from Assam also committed his vote to the UPA.
These commitments made more palatable the dinner the Prime Minister hosted for UPA allies and new-found friends at the five-star Hotel Ashok, even as a group of party leaders, who will debate the confidence motion over two days reportedly got a briefing from National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon.
To boost its tally, the Congress-led coalition is now focusing on the single-MP parties and individual MPs from varied parties. “Our attempt will be to win MPs from the Opposition camp to either vote for us or to abstain,’’ said a Congress leader.
Party leaders said talks were on with three Shiv Sena and one BJP member in Maharahstra, three BJP members from Gujarat and a couple of JD-U members. SP’s Amar Singh too claimed his party was in touch with some BJP MPs and seven BSP MPs.
“There will be surprises from unexpected quarters,” boasted Union Minister Prithviraj Chavan, He’s pegging his hopes on the fact that anti-defection laws will not deter most MPs from switching sides because general elections are nine months away: They don’t mind losing their membership for that period. The Congress also claimed the support of the two-member NC.
The Congress’ confidence of breaking into the Opposition camp was corroborated by BJP’s fears that six MPs may not show up for the vote.
These included suspended Gujarat MPs Somabhai Patel and Babulal Katara; Dharward South MP Manjunath Channappa and Chikmagalur member D.C. Srikanthappa, both from Karnataka; M.C. Kanodia from Patan in Gujarat and H.C. Chavan from Malegaon in Maharashtra are bed-ridden and cannot travel to Delhi though the BJP has kept an ambulance ready for them. The Sena members considered vulnerable include Tukaram Renge Patil, Anand Gudhe and Bhavana Gawali.