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10 Downing, via New Delhi

Caught in a hung Parliament, the Brits turned to the specialists: UPA’s allies

mumbai Updated: May 16, 2010 01:22 IST

Britain finally got its first coalition government in 36 years and New Delhi heaved a sigh of relief.

For the uninitiated, Britain’s Labour party — in power for the last 13 years — failed to get a clear majority in the May 6 elections and the country woke up to political uncertainty after a hung parliament was announced.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats too were flung into confusion as each was hoping to make a clean sweep in the House.

But what most commoners — in the UK and in India — remained unaware of were the constant and hurried phone calls flying back and forth between London and different Indian cities.

Highly placed sources in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the first call was a late-night one from (now) British PM David Cameron to Manmohan Singh, seeking advice on whom to join hands with — the Labour or the Lib Dems. Given India’s history of haggling among political parties, it seemed the most natural move.

It didn’t take much maths to figure out that with 326 out of 650 seats in the House of Commons, the Conservatives did not stand a chance to go solo. Horse-trading was the dreaded inevitability that Cameron was staring at.

It was then that Singh — given his subtlety on most such issues — happened to mention that some of the UPA’s past and present allies had indeed taught him much about hard bargaining in the House.

Early next morning, a phone was reportedly heard jangling in a south Kolkata bylane and an irate woman’s voice was heard: “Ke? Who ees shpikking?” Mamata Banerjee, it seems, did not like being rudely woken up, especially after she had been hauled over hot coals since the motormen’s strike in Mumbai a few days earlier.

The conversation that followed was in much lower tones, although a neighbour — on condition of anonymity — said that Banerjee kept saying “Arre Dada” every few lines and looked mighty excited for the rest of the day. Sources said Cameron would soon be given a free lifetime first-class pass for rail travel anywhere in India. Banerjee was not available for comment but apparently was heard telling a family member that bargaining in the British parliament was as bad as the neighbouring fish market.

Much at the same time, another phone was heard ringing inside a cowshed in Patna. Lalu Prasad likes beginning his day early by milking one of his favourite cows and was visibly irritated at the unexpected disturbance. Sources said he kept repeating: “Kaun keg?” a number of time before realising the caller was Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg who — on Singh’s advice once again — had been directed to the RJD leader. After more than an hour on the phone, Lalu was heard directing his domestic help to make space for a ‘bilaiti’ cow — that would soon be arriving from ‘phoren’ — in the cowshed.

When Cameron and Clegg shook hands — kissed and made up rather, if parts of the British press were to be believed — in front of 10 Downing, little did the press know that a blue-turbaned man at 7, Race Course Road in New Delhi had heaved a sigh of relief.

First Published: May 16, 2010 01:21 IST