Small parties seek their pound of flesh
The Congress is counting on the Samajwadi Party (SP) and a bunch of small parties to pull the government through during the vote of confidence in the Lok Sabha. But there are already indications that such support will not come easy, cheap or early.
Within hours of the Left announcing the pullout, one of these potential kingmakers, the two-MP JD(S), announced it would take a final decision on supporting the government only on the day before the trust vote. Another, the three-MP TRS, wanted the Centre to start the process for carving out a separate Telangana state. And the SP said it had kept its side of the agreement by pledging support to the government; it now expected the government to do its bit.
Congress floor managers on Tuesday spoke about having 236 members on the coalition’s side, and getting another 39 from the SP, taking its support past the magic figure of 272. But it was clear that the Congress could not take anyone for granted. The challenge will be to muster the numbers and keep its flock together in a situation where smaller parties increasingly figure they could be the only ones standing between the government staying or going.
The first sign of the difficulty of the task came from former prime minister H.D. Deve Gowda. Even as Congress managers counted the JD(S) as a firm ally, Deve Gowda declared his two MPs would make a decision only on the eve of the trust vote.
TRS chief K. Chandrasekhar Rao, who had earlier walked out of the UPA over the Centre’s reluctance to create Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh, laid down the condition for his backing: “We are ready to support,” Rao said. “(But) we want an announcement by the PMO in addition to a public statement by the Prime Minister (on the creation of Telangana) before lending our support”.
SP leader Amar Singh, who could deliver up to 39 MPs, made it a point to emphasise that his party would extend only issue-based, outside support to the government.
“We have responded to the request of the prime minister and now we hope that the PM will respond to our economic grievances,” Amar Singh said. The SP has made no secret of its desire to have a consultation mechanism to keep the party in the loop before the government takes a view on important policy issues.
Thupstan Chhewang, MP from Ladakh, is also expected to throw his weight behind the government. Apart from him, the Congress is counting on two other Independents, and some smaller parties.
In an indication of this uncertainty, the government is keeping the door open to seek support from parties that have not been on its side for many years. That these parties may not be averse to playing ball was apparent in the statement of National Conference leader Omar Abdullah. “I am not committing support to them nor ruling out,” Omar said, adding that his party did not yet know enough about the implications of the deal to take a position.