UPA still short on numbers but confident of winning


New Delhi : With only a day to go before the crucial trust vote, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government Monday found itself short of a majority in a house of 542 members but ruling Congress managers exuded confidence that they would be able to mop up the numbers to go well beyond the halfway mark of 272 to stay in power.

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The UPA was still banking on 266 votes in a house of 542 — six short of the magic figure of 272. On tbe other hand, the opposition — comprising the Left parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led National Democratic Alliance and the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) — seemed to have an edge with 269 votes in its bank.

However, two cabinet ministers in the ruling coalition who could well be the key for the UPA’s survival told IANS that some MPs had moved away from the NDA fold to vote with the government.

Besides, they had also been assured of abstentions and cross voting within the Shiv Sena and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) during the trust vote Tuesday evening that would help Manmohan Singh’s government win comfortably.

“We have been assured of support but cannot reveal now how we will cross that 272 mark. It will happen,” said a confident cabinet minister.

He also added that there would be “surprises” from BJP MPs in Karnataka and Maharashtra.

The party’s troubleshooters, who have been working overtime to rustle up the numbers after the Left parties withdrew their support, said four BJP MPs from Karnataka were unhappy and would either abstain or vote in favour of the government. They are Manorama Madhwaraj (Udupi), Basangouda Patil (Bijapur), Kunnur Manjunath Channappa (Dharwad South) and H.T. Sangliana (Bangalore North).

Of the 27 MPs from Karnataka, 15 are from the BJP.

According to party insiders, one reason for the BJP not being able to hold its flock together was that it was not as “keen” to bring down the government any more. If the government falls, it would mean ceding political space to Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader Mayawati – something they don’t want.

Mayawati has virtually taken over the role of the principal opposition party, becoming the rallying point for smaller political formations against Manmohan Singh’s government.

“Anyway, there will be elections in a few months. The BJP is not keen to bring the government down now as the BSP will wrest the advantage and that is something it does not want,” said sources.

There are chinks in the Shiv Sena armour too.

Its MP Tukaram Renge Patil from Parbhani in Marathwada region remained incognito despite efforts by party functionaries to access him on the first day of the trust vote. He had also not attended any of the two meetings of the party MPs – the first summoned by Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray in Mumbai Saturday or the second one convened in Delhi Sunday. The remaining 11 party MPs attended the meetings.

“We do not know where he is and I do not want to speculate if he has gone underground,” Shiv Sena leader Manohar Joshi told IANS.

Soon after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s speech, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also optimistic of the outcome of the confidence vote.

“I am 100 percent certain that we will win the trust vote,” he said.