Hitting back after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi came out in support of a suspended IAS officer who took on the sand mafia in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party said on Sunday it would not back the UPA's ambitious food security bill.
Ruling out support for the food entitlement ordinance "in its current form", SP leader Naresh Agarwal said, "If needed, we will vote against the bill" -- a clear indication that the suspension will play out big when Parliament opens for monsoon session on Monday.
Gandhi wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday that the government must ensure that Durga Shakti Nagpal was not unfairly treated, triggering a political battle with the SP government in UP. The SP extends outside support to the UPA at the Centre.
Even if the SP doesn't back it, the food bill should have a smooth sailing in the Lok Sabha as the BJP approves the bill "in principle" but wants some changes. If the BJP backs out, then the UPA will have a job at hand.
The SP statement also assumes significance as Mulayam Singh Yadav's party has often come to the government's rescue in passing key bills in the past year even when some UPA allies refused to bail out the Centre.
Parliament nod to the UPA's showpiece welfare legislation, which gives 800 million Indians a legal right to monthly food handouts, has been given top priority by the government in the 16-day session.
The government on July 3 took the ordinance route to pass the National Food Security Bill -- a potential vote-winner in an election year. Both the Houses of Parliament have to approve the ordinance.
The Left parties (24 Lok Sabha members), too, have expressed reservations against the bill. While the government is keen on a smooth session as it needs to pass several key bills, the Telangana issue may also emerge as a dampener.
In Lucknow, the SP was busy counting gains. "Suspension has enhanced the faith of Muslims in the SP government," health minister Ahmad Hasan said after an iftar party at CM's residence. "Look at the enthusiasm among people here at Roza iftar party."
Nagpal was suspended on July 27 for allegedly ordering demolition of a wall of a mosque on the ground that it could have triggered communal tension.
The Congress accused the SP of trying to hide corruption and raising bogey of communal tension to justify the suspension. It also dismissed SP's demand remark that Gandhi should also support Ashok Khemka, a Haryana IAS officer who scrapped her son-in-law Robert Vadra's land deals and was transferred.
"Both issues are totally different. That (Vadra's) was a civil matter. Khemka was transferred along with other officers and not suspended…," Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit Dikshit said.
(With inputs from Lucknow)