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Delhi Test
24 hours to go and still counting...
UPA bets on desertions, abstentions
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi, July 20
Although it failed to seal a deal with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Ajit Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda of the Janata Dal (S) and reports of further desertions from the Samajwadi Party (SP) continued to be a source of worry, an edgy UPA government is depending on defections and abstentions to bail it out in the crucial trust vote on Tuesday.

For starters, the UPA managed to snare rebel Janata Dal (United) MPs Ramswaroop Prasad and P.P. Koya, who went on television to say they would support the the government in “national interest”, while the SP paraded Balrampur MP Brij Bhushan Saran as their latest catch. UPA crisis managers insisted that many more such surprises would be in the offing over the next two days and it will get help from “unexpected quarters”, which includes all constituents of the NDA and the UNPA.

The day, however, did not start too well for the ruling coalition. It suffered its first setback today when RLD chief Ajit Singh met Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and BSP chief Mayawati and then publicly declared that his three-member party would vote against the UPA government. UPA sources said talks with Ajit Singh broke down when he insisted that the Mathura Lok Sabha seat, at present held by the Congress, be spared for his son. This was not acceptable to the Congress.

Mayawati struck again when she called on JD (S) leader Deve Gowda, who subsequently announced that his three MPs would join the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) in voting against the government.

The UPA, however, drew some comfort from the positive response it got from Jharkhand Mukti Morcha chief Shibu Soren, who finally pledged his support to the UPA after his meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi this morning. Soren, who has five MPs, will get two ministries, one of Cabinet rank and another a minister of state, at the Centre while his son has been promised the post of deputy chief minister in Jharkhand.

Realising that its political opponents enjoyed a psychological edge, the Congress shed its earlier diffidence and spoke openly about getting help from across the political spectrum that includes the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal. While admitting that the RLD’s decision to join the Opposition had unsettled their original plans, UPA leaders insisted they would be able to make good this loss. “Some MPs from the other side will vote for us while others will help us by abstaining... we are working on the promises held out to us,” remarked a senior UPA minister.

However, UPA crisis managers admitted that the final outcome would depend on the extent to which the SP was able to keep its flock intact. “If Mayawati succeeds in snaring any more SP members, we will be in deep trouble,” a Congress leader admitted, adding that their calculations were based on the SP’s assurance that it would deliver 35 MPs and would supplement this figure by getting help from disgruntled BSP MPs.

UPA leaders pointed out that unlike previous confidence and no-confidence votes, this one was the most difficult to predict as it was being held when the general elections were not too far away and the party whip had lost its meaning.

Members are changing loyalties and alliances with an eye on their political future as some MPs have lost their constituencies in the delimitation exercise, while others fear they might not be renominated and still others are not sure about their re-election.

As of now, the UPA is wooing as many as seven MPs, who have yet to decide their votes. Of these, lone Trinamool Congress MP Mamata Banerjee is likely to abstain. The decision of the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) not to issue a whip also came as relief to the ruling coalition as it is expecting one of the two AGP MPs will vote for the government.

The two-member National Conference has yet to take a public stand, but there are indications it may support the UPA government. There was further good news for the ruling combine when the lone Bodoland People’s Front MP Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary pledged his support, although the MP of the MNF is yet to take a final view. Similarly, three independent MPs, two from the northeast and one from Ladakh, may finally go the UPA way.



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