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Congress struggles to keep its flock together


New Delhi : With reports suggesting that some of its MPs were switching sides, the ruling Congress Friday gave strict instructions to its state units to keep its members together and “safe” ahead of the July 22 crucial floor test.

The task managers are working hard to get the numbers right to save Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition government, reduced to a minority in the 543-member Lok Sabha after the Left parties, led by the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), withdrew their legislative support over differences on the India-US civil nuclear deal.

While the party’s main troubleshooter Ahamed Patel, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, has been personally overseeing the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) attempts to rally the numbers to see it through the trust vote, other senior leaders have been asked to keep a close watch on the party MPs in their respective states.

In Karnataka, the party leadership had to rush its troubleshooters to talk to R.L. Jalappa, who publicly announced that he had differences with the state Congress leadership, after rumours that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was trying to woo him.

According to a senior Congress leader, Jalappa has assured the party that he would vote in favour of the trust vote. “It is true that the BJP is trying to poach on our MPs. But all our MPs are with us,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi told IANS.

The Congress leadership has also asked its Haryana unit and Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda to mollify Karnal MP Arvind Kumar Sharma, who has criticised the government for “harassing” Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati.

Sharma told reporters in Chandigarh that he would be with the party.

Congress leaders also claimed that there were BJP MPs who were willing to vote in favour of the UPA government. Party sources said three opposition MPs each from Gujarat and Maharashtra were expected either to abstain or vote in support of the trust motion on July 22.

“We have 280 plus and we are confident that the figures are correct,” Congress general secretary M. Veerappa Moily.

The ruling UPA can be sure of 261 votes and is trying hard to reach the halfway mark of 272 seats.