In case you don't know this fable: A king ordered his subjects to pour one glass of milk each in a dry pond on a certain auspicious day before the break of dawn. Not one of them did so, on the assumption that the rest would. The king, angry at finding the pond devoid of milk, administered severe collective punishment.
Well, the tale is instructive in these days of political chaos. More than one Lok Sabha MP is now ruing the fact that he did not vote with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. And more than one MP is making bold to say that had he known his stand would result in the government's fall, he would have voted `aye'.
The foremost among such is former prime minister Chandra Shekhar: "I was confident that the government would survive. Had I known that it was in such precarious position..."
The others are not so courageous to admit the fact in public. The Janata Dal, with six MPs, including two former prime ministers, is a case in point. Its chief Sharad Yadav admitted their best course was to abstain: "Had we known that we would be saddled with Sonia Gandhi or Laloo Prasad Yadav, we would have..."
Then there is the three-member Tamil Maanila Congress. Before the vote, it too was confident of the government surviving. Post-victory, the TMC had pinned its hopes on Vajpayee, in the company of its new-found ally, the DMK, to fix that 'political monster', All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam chief J Jayalalitha. So it toyed with the idea of abstaining, but certain that the government would scrape through, it voted against.
Of all such, the sorriest is former finance minister P Chidambaram. The new dispensation at the Centre would have no place for him, given the AIADMK boss' antipathy towards him. In any case, besides Congressman Manmohan Singh and Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy, there are quite a few others to claim the finance portfolio in the anti-BJP camp.
Had the TMC voted with the government, Chidambaram would certainly have found a place in the new arrangement, especially as the TMC's ally in Tamil Nadu, the DMK, was all set to join the government.
Black Cats for Italy
Should Sonia Gandhi become prime minister, her relatives in Italy would be fully entitled to round-the-clock protection at the Indian tax-payers's expense.
For, the act of Parliament that created the Special Protection Group provides for protection to the incumbent prime minister's blood relations as well. Which means that Sonia's parents and siblings would be entitled to SPG cover wherever they were.
Since the SPG did not visualise situating its commandos in a particularly crime-infested part of Italy, a liberal allocation in foreign exchange might be quite in order.
While on Sonia and her Italian connections, she seems to have virtually cut herself off from her relations from her late husband's side. It is interesting to note that her sister, Nadia Mario, reached New Delhi to be by her side amidst reports that she might soon become India's prime minister.
Bansi, Chauthala and Sushma
When Indian National Lok Dal's Om Parkash Chauthala announced his support to the government, he made the best of a bad bargain. Three of his four MPs, you see, had already decided to bolster Vajpayee! So Chauthala allowed himself to be persuaded by his old friend and Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Admittedly, those who failed in their bid on the INLD's four votes allege that besides the promise to replace Haryana Chief Minister Bansi Lal with Chauthala, money was also handed over. But Chauthala insists that the sole lure was the BJP's agreement to pull out of Bansi Lal's coalition.
Notably, one BJP MP who was terribly miffed at the deal is Sushma Swaraj. A dissident from the day Vajpayee ejected her from his ministry, Swaraj and her husband, Swaraj Kaushal, a Rajya Sabha member (courtesy Bansi Lal), immediately got in touch with Bansi Lal to foil Chauthala's plan. They also contacted former Haryana chief minister Bhajan Lal, who made common cause with his foe now that Chauthala had decided to prop up Vajpayee.
Incidentally, Sushma had wangled the nomination for her not-so-successful lawyer-husband from Bansi Lal. Her promise was that she would watch his interests in the BJP-led coalition against any threat from Chauthala. Om Parkash has four MPs in the Lok Sabha against Bansi Lal's one.
It was a hard-fought battle over foot-loose MPs.
The Bahujan Samaj Party of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, whose nocturnal switch a couple of hours before the actual vote sealed the fate of the government, seemed to have got the maximum out of President K R Narayanan's decision to have Vajpayee seek trust vote when Parliament was in its Budget session. Mayawati gave the creeps to Sonia Gandhi and her latest soulmate Jayalalitha when she announced that her five MPs would abstain from the vote.
That resulted in a dawn meeting between Sonia and Mayawati, but not before intermediaries fixed a deal.
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