Parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Kumar Bansal suddenly spotted Lalu Prasad near the Lok Sabha lobby while returning to his room on Thursday evening. Bansal quickly changed direction and took the RJD leader to finance minister Pranab Mukherjee for consultations even as Prasad quipped, "why do you want to talk to me? I am opposing the bill."
Thursday was a busy day for the government. Firefighters Mukherjee and Bansal spent the day negotiating with leaders from various parties to try and rustle up the numbers.
The Congress brass held two core committee meetings — at 10.40am and 4.30pm — to chalk out its Rajya Sabha strategy. After the first meeting, attended by party chief Sonia Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh, UPA floor managers tried to reach out to the outside supporters and the unhappy ally Trinamool.
BSP leader in Rajya Sabha Satish Chandra Mishra met Mukherjee and Bansal for half an hour. While the ministers tried to convince him to at least abstain from voting, Mishra later said, "I told them clearly that this time we will not stage a walkout but vote in favour of some amendments."
Prasad too announced, "There is a lot of dirt in this bill. We will vote against it."
Mukherjee later invited Trinamool leaders Mukul Roy and Derek O’Brien to his chamber but they didn’t enter after spotting journalists outside. A senior Congress leader reportedly spoke to Banerjee in Kolkata. She remained adamant and said her party will support the bill only if the lokayukta provisions are dropped.
Congress managers are also learnt to have spoken to SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav but the SP too insisted on some amendments on lokayukta.
As Mukherjee’s chamber turned into a 'war room' with ministers Salman Khurshid, Kapil Sibal and V Narayanasamy rushing in and out, the Congress went on an overdrive to ensure all the presence of all its members during voting.
Messages were sent to MPs Vijay Darda and P Kannan to come to Parliament by evening. Kannan, MP from Puducherry, initially showed reluctance due to other engagements.
By 7pm, it was clear the debate would continue. The Congress floor managers pulled in defence minister AK Antony, who told journalists: "We are trying to find a compromise. We are hopeful."