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Delhi Test
Maya nets Mulayam faithful
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, July 19
As different political formations intensified their efforts to shore up support for the crucial July 22 trust vote, UPA crisis managers were busy tallying their numbers amidst fears that the Samajwadi Party could prove to be the proverbial weak link in the chain.

As it became evident that BSP chief and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati is ruthlessly luring away SP MPs, the Congress stepped up efforts to keep its flock together and also ensure that a sizeable number of MPs from the opposition camp abstain from voting.

In a major blow to the Samajwadi Party and in turn the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government ahead of the trust vote Tuesday, Shahid Siddiqui, an SP general secretary and Rajya Sabha MP, shocked everyone by suddenly announcing that he was joining the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

“Since last month, I was feeling suffocated in the party. And I was forced to support the deal. This deal is against the Muslims and India. This deal will make us the slave of the US and lead us to darkness,” said Siddiqui, who was flanked by Mayawati.

Although there is still no clear word from JMM chief Shibu Soren, Deve Gowda of Janata Dal (U) and RLD president Ajit Singh, whose parties have 10 crucial votes, there was some optimism in the Congress camp after Gowda met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today.

There was some relief for the Congress on another front as four JMM MPs are learnt to have told Soren that they will vote with the UPA. Ajit Singh is holding up as he is bargaining for the civil aviation or the agriculture portfolio.

All the three leaders and their MPs have been invited for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s session-eve dinner tomorrow which is essentially a show of strength. Soren has said he willl be attending the dinner. Although the two-member National Conference is not supporting the UPA, it is also among the invitees as there are indications that it could bail out the UPA government if the need arises.

As suspense mounted, Congress president Sonia Gandhi met party MPs at her residence and asked them to put up a united face and ensure the government's victory in the trial of strength. Six MPs, including Haryana MP Arvind Sharma, who had openly attacked the the party yesterday, were among the absentees.

However, Atma Singh Gill, a Dalit MP from Haryana, who was being wooed by the BSP, was present and said he would vote for the government. AICC leaders insisted that the other absentees had all been accounted for and had called to excuse themselves.

While the internal dissensions continued to be a source of worry for the ruling coalition, Congress leaders insisted that they had the numbers but were now in the process of building a “buffer” to guard against any last-minute surprises. “All parties, except the Left will spring surprises”, said a senior Congress leader. In fact, UPA crisis managers are now openly mentioning that there are at least 17 members belonging to the BJP, the Biju Janata Dal, the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal who are likely to abstain from voting which will bring down the total strength of the Lok Sabha and consequently, the number of votes required to cross the half-way mark.

Although the Congress exuded confidence on sailing through the trust vote, it was evident that UP Chief Minister Mayawati who is camping in Delhi, is giving them the jitters. Two of her new-found allies, Telengana Rashtirya Samiti chief K Chandrashekar Rao the TDP's Chandrababu Naidu are openly projecting her as the next Prime Ministerial candidate.

Congress spokesperson Veerappa Moily says it is the Akalis and the Shiv Sena who will close the gap for the UPA.

Although Siddiqui’s desertion does not affect the SP’s numbers in the Lok Sabha, this development is embarrassing for the ruling coalition. The 39-member SP has already lost four MPs, bringing its tally down to 35.




From PM’s ‘Shahid Saab’ to Maya’s boy

New Delhi, July 19
Straight from a breakfast meeting at 7, Race Course Road, today, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reached out to him and called him “Shahid Saab”, Samajwadi Party (SP) general secretary Shahid Siddiqui drove to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati’s residence to declare his allegiance to her and say “this government should go”.

The announcement that he was joining SP’s arch-rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) not only shocked other editors, who were invited to the breakfast meeting, but had even took the Prime Minister by surprise, sources close to him say.

Siddiqui was invited to the interaction in his capacity as the editor of the Urdu paper “Nai Duniya”, the other hat he wears in addition to the political one as Rajya Sabha member, and till today the media-savvy spokesman for the SP.

His name was included in the list of editors invited to the one-and-a-half hour freewheeling interaction that the Prime Minister had this morning, during which he largely talked about his record, his vision for the country and his failed quest to get all parties on board on the touchstone India-US civil nuclear deal.

Twice during the interaction, Manmohan Singh reached out to Siddiqui, addressing him as “Shahid Saab” and said if any party had a grouse about not being briefed over the nuclear deal it was “Shahid Saab’s (Samajwadi) party”. Siddiqui was also included in the Prime Minister’s press party to Japan and was given the pride of place in the media section, right opposite the chair occupied by the Prime Minister when he meets reporters on board his special flight. He was seen as a bridge between the government and the SP with which the Congress had entered into a political alliance to save the government and the nuclear deal.

Those who know Siddiqui say they are not completely surprised at his flip-flop. When US President George Bush came here in March 2006, Siddiqui was in the vanguard of Muslim protests against the visit. Hours later he took off his bright red cap, that caught the TV cameras’ attention during the demonstration before Parliament’s main gate, and drove to attend the lunch in Bush’s honour. — IANS



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