Buildup to trust vote reaches final lap, suspense mounts


New Delhi : Political activity reached its crescendo Saturday with the Congress-led ruling coalition and opposition parties desperately tying up support and using every ploy to crack the numbers game in an outcome that was still too close to call.

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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, a 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.

Just hours earlier, Siddiqui, who runs an Urdu newspaper attended a breakfast meeting for editors with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh where he heard the prime minister defend the nuclear deal and asked pointed questions on what this government has done for Muslims.

Siddiqui’s desertion sent the Samajwadi Party leadership into a tizzy, wondering if it would be able to keep its 35 MPs together ahead of the vote and especially after the Uttar Pradesh chief minister threatened to poach more from its flock. His exit, however, does not make a difference in the number game as he is a Rajya Sabha MP – but there were fears he could act as a spoiler.

Earlier in the day, another Samajwadi Party MP, S.P. Singh Baghel from Jalesar, said he would vote against the UPA while three other MPs – Rajnaryan Budholiya, Jaiprakash and Munawar Hassan – have already announced their stand against the party.

Siddiqui’s volte-face did not seem to ruffle party president Mulayam Singh Yadav who still appeared confident and charged his bete noire Maywati of horse-trading.

“There is no rift in my party. All our MPs are still with us,” he said stoically.

With suspense mounting everyday in the run-up to the trust vote in parliament that will determine whether Manmohan Singh’s government stays, Congress president Sonia Gandhi met all her party MPs individually asking them to put up a united face to ensure the government’s victory in the trial of strength.

Gandhi began meeting Congress MPs state-wise at her 10, Janpath residence as her chief troubleshooters were busy meeting smaller political formations to secure the magic figure of 272 required for the survival of the party-led coalition.

“We have a comfortable majority. We are getting support from unexpected voters and we are confident to win the support. There is a hard bargain with parties and that is a part of negotiation,” said Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office.

Despite the uncertainty that prevailed over whether the UPA could cobble up the required numbers, some even fearing that the government could fall, while the allies were convinced that it would be cakewalk.

“We have got 281 MPS, the figure is stable and it will go up,” boasted Lok Jana Shakti Party leader, Ram Vilas Paswan and central minister.

Clearly, the kingmakers in this political drama continued to be MPs from small parties such as the Janata Dal-S, the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha who refused to reveal which way they were going.

Gowda, who arrived in Delhi, met up with Prime Minister Singh but declined to say how his three MPs would vote.

“There is no question of bargaining with the prime minister. I resigned as prime minister in 1996 so why should I bargain now? We have not decided our stand yet and will officially declare it tomorrow.”

The JMM, although formally part of the UPA coalition, was still reluctant to make public its stand on the vote, though Congress party insiders were certain that they would have little trouble convincing party chief Shibu Soren.

For many of the smaller political formations and independent MPS the stakes are huge as the party they support could well decide their long-term political future especially once elections are called.

“We need to think hard on this issue. The nuclear deal is a big matter but so is our political future,” said an independent MP candidly, unwilling to be quoted.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) intensified its attempts to defeat the Congress-led government and held a dinner for its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners Saturday to ensure that its flock is intact.

During the CPI-M central committee meeting, the party leadership explained to members the developments that led to the Left’s decision to withdraw its legislative support to the UPA government. The apex committee is also expected to discuss the post-trust vote scenario.

The central committee is also expected to discuss the action that should be taken against party MP and Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who reportedly refused to go by the party directive to step down in the wake of the CPI-M withdrawing support to the government.