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The buzz from Delhi: Pranab may pilot trust vote

R Prema in New Delhi | July 16, 2008

Even as the number crunching for the crucial July 22 vote to decide fate of the United Progressive Alliance government becomes murkier with each passing day, confusion prevails in the Congress party on who will pilot the confidence motion in the Lok Sabha on July 21.

In normal course, it is always the privilege of the prime minister. Technicalities may, however, compel Dr Manmohan Singh [Images] to participate in the debate on the motion, but leave it for External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is leader of House, to pilot the motion on behalf of the government.

Dr Singh being a member of the Rajya Sabha cannot be present in the Lok Sabha when the voting takes place as prior to that, the House and all lobbies are cleared of anybody who is not a Lok Sabha member. So, even the prime minister has to move out.

The motion goes by default if its mover is not present in the House to request that it be put to vote at the end of the debate and as such the Congress is contemplating to let Pranab Mukherjee be the mover, lest the voting does not take place and the government is accused of not taking the vote to prove its majority.

There is a precedent of late P V Narasimha Rao, who was also a Rajya Sabha member, remaining present during the voting, but Congress sources said the Left -- bent upon targetting Dr Singh personally -- may object to his presence creating unpleasant acrimony.

Left Rethink
Though Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Prakash Karat asserted in the latest issue of the party's mouthpiece that the Left would vote against the government, there may be a re-think in the light of veteran CPI-M leader Jyoti Basu's remarks that the BJP may be a bigger threat than the nuclear deal.

Basu expressed his misgivings in Kolkata on the Left siding with BJP to pull down the government when Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and senior Politburo member Nirupam Sen approached him to persuade Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee to resign in lieu of the Left withdrawing support to the government.

Speaker Quitting
Basu is believed to have spoken to 79-year-old Somnathda, who reportedly promised to abide by his CPI-M patriarch's diktat a day after scoffing at his constitutional office unnecessarily being dragged into controversy and indicating that he may not quit as he was not elected by the UPA and the Left but by all.

A word has gone around that the Lok Sabha Speaker would attend his office on Monday, write his resignation and leave it on his table.

Once the staff conveys it, the Lok Sabha secretary-general will take the resignation letter to Deputy Speaker Charnjit Singh Atwal, who will assume charge as the acting Speaker.

The young CPI-M leadership that felt insulted from the rebuke it got from Chatterjee may not be satisfied just with his resignation as he may be asked to be prepared for being the party's first speaker in the confidence motion debate.

Soren's secret hobnobbing
Just on a day Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Bannerjee gave a happy byte for Congress, affirming that she does not want the government to fall, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha supremo Sibu Soren became busy hobnobbing with the Bhartiya Janata Party to lend his party's five votes in the Lok Sabha in return for the BJP to support him as the chief minister in Jharkhand.

Annoyed with Dr Singh for not restoring his ministerial berth even after getting bail in the conviction for murder of his secretary, Soren sent one of his MPs to attend the UPA's meeting on Friday to ensure his game plan of joining hands with BJP remains under wraps.

His JMM has 17 legislators in the 81-MLA Jharkhand assembly while the BJP has 29 legislators, and as such together they can topple the present coalition government propped up by Congress with an independent, Madhu Koda, as the chief minister.

Mamata clever
In an interview on Friday to a Kolkata daily, Mamata Bannerjee said: 'I don't want an elected government to fall prematurely. Instead, it should complete its full term.'

She, however, cleverly avoided a pointed question as to whether she would vote in favour of the UPA government's trust motion or against it or abstain.

Instead, she philosophised: 'The premature fall of an elected government usually leads to chaos and political instability. It also causes inconvenience to people when an early election is imposed on them.'

In any case, she would not be present in the Lok Sabha on July 21 when the debate on the trust motion begins as she is slated to address a rally at Esplanade in Kolkata to commemorate the killing of 13 Youth Congress activists in July 1993.

She is expected to announce her future plans at the rally.

Of course, she would be leaving for Delhi either July 21 night or the next morning to be in the House when the voting takes place, a Trinamul source affirmed.

Left woos Jaya
While the Congress managers are busy seeking support for the crucial confidence vote, the CPI-M leaders are busy trying to mobilise the anti-Congress parties to make it impossible for the government to get past the trust vote.

With the Samajwadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav losing the moral right to continue as chairman of the third front of United National Progressive Alliance after joining hands with the Congress, CPI-M leader Prakash Karat is persuading All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam boss J Jayalalithaa to take over the reins once again.

He conveyed to her through The Hindu editor N Ram that he was quite happy with the statement she issued on the nuclear deal. If nothing else, the CPI-M sources said such gesture would stop Jayalalithaa in her tracks from siding with the BJP and if she opts to return to the UNPA, it would once again bolster prospects of the third front coming into a reckoning in the next Lok Sabha elections.

Chandrababu's eye on Maya
Telugu Desam Party chief N Chandrababu Naidu [Images] has been listening to the Left leaders, but he has his own ambition to take over the UNPA throwing out Mulayam for his flirtation with the Congress.

Since the Samajwadi Party is out of reckoning, Chandrababu is even exploring the possibility of persuading Bahujan Samaj Party supremo and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati to lead his front.

At the same time, he has put his parliamentary party leader Yerran Naidu to remain in touch with the Left leaders to give him minute-to-minute information on the political developments in Delhi.

With the exit of Samajwadi Party for all practical purposes, the UNPA strength is now reduced to just 8 MPs in the Lok Sabha -- five belonging to TDP, two from Asom Gana Parishad and one from Jharkhand Vikas Morcha. These MPs are all determined to vote against the Congress in the confidence vote.

The same is the case of 17 MPs of BSP, which may get another 8 to 10 from the Samajwadi Party in the run-up to the voting.

On behalf of UNPA, Yerran Naidu is also in touch with Janata Dal-Secular chief H D Deve Gowda, Rashtriya Lok Dal president Ajit Singh and JMM supremo Shibu Soren to mobilise them for voting against the government.

Congress media blitz
The Congress is, meanwhile, trying to mobilise the people in support of the nuclear deal.

Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images] has told All India Congress Committee leaders to go to the public and tell them about the deal's advantages. In fact, Congress general secretaries met at Sonia's residence to chalk out a full-fledged campaign to highlight the benefits of the nuclear deal.

Congress ministers are also not taking things lying down as Petroleum Minister Murli Deora became the first to launch a media campaign to sell the nuclear deal to the people.

The ministry of petroleum and natural gas has issued advertisements in major national dailies warning people with the lines like, 'tomorrow can be dark, if we don't see the light today'.

The advertisements also quote the chief of the Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Anil Kakodkar, saying that 'history will not forgive us if the deal is not clinched'.

BJP says vote not on N-deal
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Saturday asserted that it would be wrong to say the confidence vote was on the nuclear deal as the Congress is trying to pretend by repeatedly asserting that the UPA government would proceed with the deal only if it wins majority in the Lok Sabha.

Party spokesman Prakash Javadekar said the government would have to account for four years of its anti-people acts and policies and its failure on all front. The nuclear deal is only one of the issues for the confidence vote, he added.

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