Not the last supper
New Delhi, July 20
On the eve of the trust vote in the Parliament, dinner diplomacy seemingly suited the UPA, with the Congress and allies claiming having “homed in to safety.”
By the end of the dinner, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had even approved the final list of UPA speakers for the confidence motion debate tomorrow. The list features heavyweights including Pranab Mukherjee, Rahul Gandhi, P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal, Pawan Bansal, Renuka Choudhury, Krishna Tirath, Shakeel Ahmad, Anand Sharma, Dr Thokchom Meinya, S Madhosoodan Mistry and Saifuddin Soz.
That apart, the dinner shaped into a virtual victory parade by the UPA. Among those who attended the procession were not just trusted Congress allies like Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Singh and Sharad Pawar, but surprising entrants into the camp like Dayanidhi Maran, JMM chief Shibu Soren, erstwhile SP rebel Raj Babbar and even a BJP MP -Brijbhushan Sharan from Balrampur. There were, however, strange absentees too-like the two National Conference MPs.
The overall mood was still upbeat, thanks to Amar Singh’s tactical poaching of one BJP MP. For the UPA, Sharan’s presence was a huge booster at a time when L.K. Advani was hosting a parallel dinner for NDA leaders at his residence, and vowing to expose Congress misrule in the debate tomorrow.
Around the same time, Sharan emerged from UPA’s dinner looking satiated, not just with the sumptuous multi-cuisine servings, but also something else. He however claimed he had abandoned the BJP in the interest of the deal and the nation, and had sought “nothing in return.” Soren too remained evasive when asked if he had managed to firm up with the PM the deal of getting deputy chief ministership of Jharkhand for his son. “We will discuss that when we come to it,” he said.
As for UPA’s vote managers, the dinner was an occasion to headcount; there were reports that the PMO had been asked to list the visitors. The Congressmen, however, denied having counted anyone. “We have assembled to eat, not count, said Vyalar Ravi, overseas affairs minister.
The magic numbers were, however, given away by LJP’s Ram Vilas Paswan who claimed the UPA had 281 MPs on board. Red is nearing its end, he gloated. And as he spoke, Sonia Gandhi’s most trusted lieutenant Ahmad Patel walked past, looking happy and “very busy”. On his side were Rajiv Shukla and Maharashtra CM Vilasrao Deshmukh.
CMs of Haryana, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi and Jharkhand also turned up at the dinner which lasted two hours. Andhra CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy in fact even managed to host a special lunch for the contingent of Congress MPs from his state. The lunch was served at Andhra Bhavan.
But it was no match for the PM’s dinner, where MPs “cut across party lines” to stand together. Among those happy to be counted were PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti and Mufti Sayeed, who said the atmosphere at the dinner was “optimistic”. For his part, the PM took no chances. He went to every table despite mostly being seen in the company of Mulayam Singh. On a table close by sat Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, with MPs taking turns to share their space.