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Sena leaders say flock intact, will vote against UPA

Krishnakumar P in New Delhi | July 21, 2008 20:50 IST
Last Updated: July 21, 2008 21:20 IST

The Shiv Sena, which helped the United Progressive Alliance during last year's Presidential election, may end up helping the ruling alliance once again.

Only this time, matters don't seem to be in its hands. With just a day to go before the Lok Sabha votes on a confidence motion Prime Minister Manmohan Singh [Images] moved on Monday morning, the UPA is hoping to cash in on abstentions from the Shiv Sena, which has 12 MPs, and the Biju Janata Dal.

The Sena's number is already reduced to 11, with senior party MP Tukaram Renge-Patil going off the radar. Nobody, neither his party nor his family, knows where the MP is.

It is believed Maharashtra Congress leader Narayan Rane has set out to reduce the Sena's numbers in the Lok Sabha; it is also claimed that he might have a hand in Renge-Patil's disappearing act. Renge-Patil is said to be close to Rane and the two men are said to share a good relationship even after Rane's move from the Sena to the Congress.

It is also said that Renge-Patil was not happy with the functioning of Sena Working President Uddhav Thackeray and he chose this moment to air his displeasure.

Rane is said to be using his influence in the Sena to ensure that as many MPs as possible abstain during the vote.

Sources said at least three other Sena MPs may abstain from voting. One MP being closely watched is Mohan Rawale, the MP who in 1993 abstained from voting citing the excuse of an upset tummy when the P V Narasimha Rao government faced a trust vote. "He single-handedly saved the Rao government. And nobody has forgotten it," said a Sena observer.

This time around, it is said, Rawale is set to toe the party line and Sena bosses are confident that he will be present and vote against the government.

Though all eyes are on the Sena and there definitely are jitters, the party bosses put up a cool exterior on Monday. "All our 11 MPs are with the party and will vote against the government," party leader and Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut said.

When reminded that the Sena has 12 MPs and if he knew anything about the one MP who is missing, Raut said: "Yes. One MP is missing. We do not know anything about his whereabouts. Only when the MP surfaces and explains will we all know what really happened. Till then it is not proper to speculate about it," he said.

Raut said his flock is together and will vote against the UPA government. "All 11 MPs are in my home and they will vote according to the party whip," he said, though not many of them were seen in the Lok Sabha during the debate.

He dispelled arguments that Rane is working to break the Sena and at ensure a sizeable number of MPs abstain. "Rane cannot do anything. Rane doesn't have a role and Deshmukh doesn't have a role. What role will they play when we are saying our party is united?" Raut asked.

Asked if the Sena might stand to gain by going against the NDA, Sena observer Vaibhav Purandare said it would not go for such a move as there is nothing to gain by opposing the Bharatiya Janata Party at this stage.

"The Sena will not antagonise the BJP at a time when elections are imminent, irrespective of which way the trust vote will go. Also, the nuclear deal is too alien a concept for the Sena's core constituency and does not hold any electoral appeal," Purandare said. "Sena leaders believe the NDA has a good chance of doing well in the next elections."

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