Left withdraws, numbers game on
It had been a marriage of convenience and it collapsed on Tuesday. But the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance sounded reasonably upbeat about its survival despite the withdrawal of support by the Left parties.
The UPA will seek a confidence vote after it hears from President Pratibha Patil. The Left parties will give their letters of withdrawal to Patil on Wednesday; they will also seek a direction to UPA to get a trust vote.
External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, “Before we go for international agreements we would surely seek the vote of confidence.” The process will start as soon as they get the word from Rashtrapati Bhawan.
The government will convene a special session of Parliament to secure a confidence vote before approaching the IAEA for the India-specific safeguards agreement later this month. The regular monsoon session is slated from August 11 to September 5.
“With the PM’s approval, I am saying that we will seek the approval of the Lok Sabha as soon as we receive a formal communication from the President… This session will be short and for disposing the vote of confidence,” Mukherjee said at a news conference.
The veteran strategist would say nothing about the party’s plan but hinted at orchestrated abstentions saying the government was confident of getting a “majority from amongst those present and voting”. That could be among the factors that explain the government’s confidence. “I don’t think this (the withdrawal) will affect the stability of the government,” said PM Manmohan Singh, in Japan for the G8 summit.
The trigger for the Left’s decision to withdraw support was a statement from the Prime Minister on Monday that India would be approaching the IAEA for the India-specific safeguard agreement “very soon”.
That angered the Left leaders into announcing the pullout without waiting for Singh’s return. Though they had never promised they would wait, political observers felt might have.
The PM meets US President George W. Bush on Wednesday and the nuke deal will be the most important talking point. Will they also discuss Singh’s domestic predicament?
On Wednesday, leaders of CPM, CPI, RSP and Forward Bloc will give two sets of letters to the President —-one for withdrawing support and other to urge her to direct the government to seek a trust vote.
The Left has already said it will vote against the government even it means voting with the BJP, which has also said it would vote against the government but not go out of the way to muster additional numbers.
But does the UPA have the numbers, minus 59-MPs of the Left parties? Mukherjee won't reveal anything. "The proof of the pudding is in the eating…Wait till the motion is placed before the House."
The SP's open support to the government and Amar Singh's meeting with Sonia Gandhi on Tuesday has brought the 230-member UPA closer to the half-way mark of 271 in the 543 member House in which one MP does not have a voting right.
It hopes to go beyond that halfway line with the help of three members of the Ajit Singh-led RLD and three unattached MPs —Raj Babbar, M.P. Veerendra Kumar and A.Narendra.
The number chase will pick up speed on the Prime Minister's return on Wednesday. The Congress's crisis managers are working on a two-pronged survival strategy.
One, get enough MPs in support of the government and then, two, ensure some parties or MPs go absent or abstain at the time of voting so that a simple majority of those present and voting sees the government through.
A part of this strategy has already begun to unfold. The SP, which will not join the government, has sought an appointment with the President on Wednesday to offer a fresh letter of support to the UPA.
But that things could still be tricky was reflected in the brewing revolt in the SP and H.D. Deve Gowda's stand that his JD(S) would reveal its hand only before the vote.
The Congress is also looking for support from the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party, whose member Mehbooba Mufti sees the deal in the national interest, the TRS, the Trinamool Congress and even the BJP's ally, the Akali Dal which may not like to be seen to be pulling down the government of the country's first Sikh prime minister.