M A I N   N E W S

Delhi Test
72 hours to go
Jitters, more jitters
n PM rings up Deve Gowda in Bangalore
n Several MPs not averse to defying their party whip
Anita Katyal & Ashok Tuteja
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 18
The Congress-led UPA government is fighting with its back to the wall as frantic efforts to drum up requisite support for the crucial trust vote on July 22 are running into constant roadblocks.

As the magic figure of 272 continued to elude the ruling coalition, Congress crisis managers spent the day wooing three key players-Shibu Soren of the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM), Ajit Singh of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) and Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (S)-but failed to get any commitment from them. The three parties have 10 MPs in the Lok Sabha and their positive vote could turn the tide in favour of the UPA government in an otherwise close contest.

While Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rang up Deve Gowda in Bangalore to seek his support, the UPA is learnt to have held out the promise of ministerial berths to both Soren and Ajit Singh, who are also being chased by the other side. Realising that the five-member JMM holds the key to the survival of the UPA government, the BJP has offered Soren the chiefministership of Jharkhand.

Similarly, Ajit Singh is also in great demand. After CPI leader A. B. Bardhan called on him yesterday to dissuade him from joining hands with the UPA. Telangana Rashtriya Samiti (TRS) chief K. Chandrashekhar Rao had dinner with the Jat leader tonight with the same mission in mind.

Soren, who is apparently mulling over the two offers, is learnt to have told the UPA that he could be persuaded to accept its offer provided he was inducted into the Cabinet before Monday’s special session of Parliament.

The Congress, however, ruled out any possible Cabinet expansion till the trust vote on July 22. While Soren remained underground throughout the day, JMM chief whip Teklal Mahtao publicly declared that all the five party MPs would vote for the government. The JMM parliamentary party is slated to meet tomorrow to take a final view.

Not only is the Congress finding it difficult to add to its numbers, it is also worried that it could face desertions from its own ranks. The 39-member Samajwadi Party is faced with serious internal problems as Uttar Pradesh chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is making no bones about luring away some of its MPs. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal is also vulnerable as Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is learnt to be in touch with his MPs.

The Congress, which has consistently maintained that its 153 members will not stray, got a jolt today when Haryana MP Arvind Sharma hit out at the UPA government and indicated that he would vote against the ruling coalition.

Haryana Chief Minister B. S. Hooda was promptly dispatched to speak to him after which Sharma told presspersons that he would not defy the party whip.

Several MPs are not averse to defying their party whip as they do not risk being disqualified because the term of the present Lok Sabha ends in less than year.

They are instead weighing their options with the next Lok Sabha elections in view and will be willing to jump ship if offered a better deal by another party.

If the opposition is banking on this factor to garner support, the Congress is also depending on abstentions in the NDA camp to see it through the vote. The Shiv Sena, Biju Janata Dal and the Akali Dal are said to be vulnerable in this regard.



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