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Small parties gainers in UPA's hour of need
July 15, 2008 12:06 IST
"Rs 25 crore. That is the price the government is paying per MP to stay in power," said Communist Party of India General Secretary AB Bardhan, rarely given to hyperbole, at a rally on Monday.
The fact is, strapped for MPs and jittery about the outcome of the July 22 trust vote, the government is taking no chances with the availability of Lok Sabha MPs for the Special Session of Parliament (July 21-22), which will see one of the most exciting debates in recent parliamentary history.
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For Congress President and United Progressive Alliance Chairperson Sonia Gandhi [Images], the trust vote is a prestige issue, party insiders say.
But despite this, party managers are gloomy -- the best-case scenario is that the government will just about scrape through in the trust vote.
"Even if we win, it will be with a very thin majority," said a senior Congress minister.
The date for the trust vote was chosen with care. Originally, the vote was to have been scheduled for July 18-19, as the government was anxious to get it over with. However, it was put off because five (now) ruling coalition MPs are in jail and the process to get them to the Lok Sabha to vote could present unexpected challenges.
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(One-MP parties in the Lok Sabha)
All India Majlis e Ittehadul Muslimeen All India Trinamul Congress Bharatiya Navshakti Party Jammu and Kashmir [Images] People's Democratic Party Mizo National Front Muslim League Kerala [Images] State Committee Nagaland People's Front National Loktantrik Party Republican Party of India (A) Sikkim Democratic Front
The procedure is: the sentencing court has to give the government permission to seek bail, after which the MP is brought to the House and once voting is complete, returned to prison. If, however, the MP's counsel says the MP does not want bail and the judge upholds his right not to seek bail, the government has to appeal against the judgment.
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This delay can create scheduling difficulties -- which is why the government has pushed the trust vote date as far back as it could.
The special cell in the Congress engaged with making friends and influencing people is proactive. Every MP, especially from smaller parties, is being contacted. The Jharkhand Mukti Morcha was in the government. It lost its Cabinet berth when its representative Shibu Soren had to go to jail. The JMM wants its ministerial berth back.
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The government doesn't want to give it back, but might have no option.
Conscious of their suddenly elevated status, MPs are also strutting their stuff. "The prime minister's doors are open for an MP for a 'call-on at 20 minutes' notice. Meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi might be more difficult: her office needs a 30-minute notice to schedule a meeting," an MP, who is one of two from his party in the Lok Sabha, said gleefully.
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Lawmakers, who have lost elections but whose parties are represented in the Lok Sabha, are also being contacted for their help. A list of return gifts is being compiled.
"You will see some of these on the list of cabinet decisions on Thursday," a minister said.
For many MPs who know they might find it hard to win the next election, this represents the difference between victory and defeat. The Samajwadi Party has already decided that although not all its sitting Lok Sabha MPs are going to win their seats, it will ensure all MPs get the party nomination. That way, the incentive to defect will be less.
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"There are just six months left. We are looking to our next term, not the rest of this term," said an MP, who now knows he will be re-nominated but was not sure of getting the seat earlier.
Out of the six independent MPs, the Congress is confident of getting at least three of them on board. Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi has been given the task to negotiate with Sansuma Khunggur Bwiswmuthiary from Kokrajhar and Mani Charenamei of Manipur.
A top UPA manager said, "Wangyuh Konyak of Nagaland, Mohan Delkar of Dadra and Nagar Haveli will also support us."
Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee, the lone MP from her party, has been requested to abstain from voting, which would also help the ruling coalition.