The Congress has formed a core team under the leadership of External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee to manage, manipulate and cobble together a majority in the Lok Sabha when the United Progressive Alliance government faces a floor test on July 22.
Each day Congress stalwarts gather at Mukherjee's New Delhi home at 11, Talkatora Road to discuss tactics and strategy. Mukherjee's team includes Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Vayalar Ravi, Congress President Sonia Gandhi's [Images] political secretary Ahmed Patel, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Prithviraj Chavan and Defence Minister A K Antony.
Also, every other day Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar [Images], Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav, the Samajwadi Party's Amar Singh, Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers Ram Vilas Paswan, Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss and Shipping Minister T R Baalu of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam join the meeting at Mukherjee's home.
Many times, the Congress allies ask Ravi, 'Are you confident?' and Ravi gives a big smile in return.
On Saturday, July 19, the Congress's 153 members of Parliament will meet Sonia Gandhi, state-wise, throughout the day. The same day Jharkhand Mukti Morcha leaders Shibu Soren, who is reportedly sulking, will meet Sonia Gandhi and is likely to declare his stand on the confidence vote. On July 20 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] will host a dinner for all the UPA Members of Parliament.
Amidst these hectic political activities Vayalar Ravi remains engaged and excited. Being parliamentary affairs minister, it is his responsibility to see the UPA's flock remains together on the eve of voting.
In a telephonic conversation with Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt, Ravi spoke freely on what is going on within his party and outside to get a simple majority in the Lok Sabha.
Will you win the trust vote?
We will succeed. We are fully confident that we have our parties and members with us. Our calculations are right. The groups which are supporting us understand that the Indo-US nuclear deal is good for India.
I repeat, we are confident that we will get 280 seats and whatever comes to us above that will be a bonus.
There is talk about money changing hands.
The BJP won't get any Congressman. They are calling small groups and offering attractions.
Do you remember the JMM scandal? The P V Narasimha Rao government had bribed the JMM to win votes in the Lok Sabha.
(Ignores the question) The BJP is offering the JMM many things.
Something that (Communist Party of India general secretary A B) Bardhan was talking about.
Money? Rs 25 crore?
Yes, Bardhan said about it.
But, he was talking about the Congress then.
No, no. He fixed it (the amount) after (Bahujan Samaj Party leader) Mayawati made an offer. Mayawati had captured a member of Parliament from Amroha (Harish Nagpal). He is a liquor baron. She is now using all her powers to withdraw the cases against him.
This kind of dirty politics, is all this worth the nuclear deal?
How can you say that? It is the BJP which indulged in horse-trading in Karnataka by making five Independent members ministers. Don't you remember that? Horse-trading is the character of the BJP.
Will this trust vote mean it is a vote for the nuclear deal?
Yes. It will mean that we have the support of Parliament for the nuclear deal. And, members have confidence in Prime Minister Singh.
Mr Ravi, you should answer the question on horse-trading. The charges are against the Congress party.
Unfortunately, you don't know the Congress. Come and sit in my party office. We have a different party. We are not corrupt like the CPM and BJP. You have got a wrong impression of our party. The BJP is thoroughly corrupt, but somehow you don't write about the BJP and CPM. In Kerala [Images] their (CPM) party man made Rs 3 crore and they had to take action against him.
What is the Telangana Rashtra Samiti's stand?
They are still wavering. Mayawati has made them a good offer. The same offer that Bardhan has mentioned.
Rs 25 crore?
Bardhan said it only after knowing about it.
Is the offer of Rs 25 crore fixed per party or per person?
An offer is per person.
Where is the JMM's Shibu Soren? What is his stand?
He is in New Delhi. He will declare his stand on July 19. The BJP is offering him chief ministership of Jharkhand.
You should know that the BJP has the revoked suspension of an MP (Babubhai Katara was suspended when the police charged him with human trafficking) who took a woman abroad posing as if she was his wife.
Is it true that Dr Singh has requested Mukesh Ambani to mediate between the Shiv Sena and Congress? Did he propose through Mr Ambani that the Sena should vote in favour of the government?
We don't know what happened when Ambani called on the PM. If the PM wants to do anything he will do it privately. I don't know what was on the agenda when they met. But, Ambani also met (West Bengal Chief Minister) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. Why make it an issue?
Will the Shiv Sena vote for the government?
No, I don't think so.
What about the Akali Dal? Would they like to save a Sikh prime minister's reputation?
They are not issuing a whip.
Why is an impression prevailing that your victory is uncertain? Is it touch-and-go?
The BJP's rumour mill is functioning. The BJP is approaching our MPs. They can send any number of messengers. Our people (MPs) are saying, 'Go to hell'. The BJP leaders from the Bellary mines are trying, but they won't succeed.
The CPI-M and Congress had cordial relations in the last four years, but now things have gone to the other extreme.
The CPM is playing games. The CPM is playing the Muslim card. Hope you know that (BJP President) Rajnath Singh has said in Bhopal that if their party comes to power their first agenda is to build the Ram temple. The CPM wants to topple the government but they are not going to come to power again. Either the BJP or the Congress will come to power.
The CPM is helping the BJP. The CPM had joined the V P Singh government (in 1989), which had the support of the BJP from outside, like Communists. Then, the Rath Yatra took place and eventually Babri Masjid was demolished. The same thing is being repeated now.
It seems the Congress and CPI-M have quite a venomous relationship now.
(CPI-M General Secretary) Prakash Karat, I don't want to get personal, but he is playing the role of B T Ranadive. During 1947-48, when India was suffering due to millions of refugees, he created a crisis for Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru by questioning the independence (of India). Karat is repeating the same mistake.