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Home > India > News > Columnists > Neerja Chowdhury

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Analysis: The options before the UPA

July 08, 2008

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The die is finally cast. With the Left formally withdrawing support to the government, the first task before Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] is to win a trust motion quickly.

The government would not like to go to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which it was planning to do on July 28, as a minority government, for that signals a very different message to member countries of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Parliament may be called sooner than later, and the two dates under consideration are July 20 or 22 and the cabinet is expected to finalise the timetable on Wednesday.

The challenge before the Congress is to get its arithmetic right and mount an operation that is foolproof, particularly after the way things were botched up in Srinagar [Images]. Things had seemed to be under control, and Ghulam [Images] Nabi Azad had assured Delhi that he had the numbers, but he had to quit as chief minister without facing the assembly.

On the face of it, the Congress has worked out its support lines to compensate the loss of the Left parties, and the prime minister has ruled out early elections. The Samajwadi Party has publicly announced its support to the UPA. With the UPA accounting for 225 members, and taking into account SP's 39 MPs, the numbers add up to 264. But if you add three of Rashtriya Lok Dal, three of the Janata Dal-Secular and three from the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the UPA will be just over the hump with 273 votes. If it also gets five independents, which it claims it has the support of, and some 'others', then it is home and dry.

Of course, there are many 'ifs and buts' in this scenario. First, there have been reports that there are around 10 Samajwadi Party MPs, who have reservations about voting with the UPA on the nuke deal, are in a mood to defy the party whip -- though Mulayam Singh Yadav has declared that all the 39 SP MPs are behind him. Some are Muslims and others have a sizeable Muslim population in their constituencies. Eleven SP MPs reportedly did not attend the meeting called by Mulayam Singh Yadav on Tuesday.

With disquiet in the SP MPs, and with elections not far off, they would have jumped to the Bahujan Samaj Party, were Mayawati to assure them of BSP tickets in the Lok Sabha polls. From all accounts, Mayawati is not thinking of employing this strategy, even though she is keeping a close watch on the situation.

She will play on Muslim fears, having stated that the deal is anti-Muslim, but she may not go the whole hog to bring down the government on the nuke deal, even as she votes against the UPA.

The political grapevine is abuzz with stories about the price the SP will extract for its support, like ten ministers in the government! Essentially, the SP is worried about the series of cases that have been slapped against its leaders, particularly the disproportionate wealth case against Mulayam Singh Yadav.

UNPA or no UNPA, Mulayam cannot think of becoming prime minister, if there is a CBI charge against him. How the prime minister will "manage" this for Mulayam remains to be seen.

The Congress' main headache is to keep the UPA flock together and to 'manage' the demands made by a host of small and big parties, each demanding their pound of flesh in return for their support at a critical moment like this.

While the Congress is banking on the TRS coming around, the regional party had delinked itself from the UPA and it may demand some assurance on Telangana to justify lending support. Ajit Singh will want a ministry of his choice.

Shibu Soren, whose Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has five members in the Lok Sabha, has been sulking at being denied a cabinet berth which was given to Rameshwar Oraon at the behest of Lalu Yadav.

The Congress is planning to fish in the NDA waters, and hoping for support of the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, or for these parties to abstain in the trust vote. Bal Thackeray had raised Congress hopes when he came out in favour of the nuke deal, but his son Uddhav ruled out support to the UPA, clarifying that his party would stick with the NDA.

The Akali Dal has also been silent on the nuke deal. Congress leaders hope they will back the prime minister, who is a Sikh, and because a large number of Sikhs in the US support the move. However, it is unlikely the Akali Dal will back the UPA and jeopardise their future politics in an election year.

The ally who could however be more promising for the Congress, and would help it make inroads into the NDA, is Mamta Banerjee, now that the Left has parted company with the Congress. Going with the Congress could have big dividends for her in West Bengal, though she too would have to worry about the Muslim factor.

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