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Cong ready to open bag of bounties

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT in Delhi
  • Published 18.07.08
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New Delhi, July 17: The Congress is beginning to accept that the trust vote hinges less on the nuclear deal’s merits than on how well the government can meet prospective allies’ wish lists.

A Congress source said that as long as an MP didn’t ask for “something illegal”, his demands should be seriously considered.

That could include restoring the coal ministry to Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) leader Shibu Soren — a move the Prime Minister had been chary of even after Soren was acquitted of criminal charges.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “People (MPs) may have no problems with the nuclear deal but their support will come on other things.”

Asked about the compromises the government will have to make, he said: “We have to understand we are living in a federal polity.”

On Soren’s demand for the coal ministry, he said: “He is an MP, eligible and legally qualified to become a minister. He spoke about energy security. But it is for the PM to take a decision.”

Sources hinted the Congress had not given up on the Telengana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), which had left the UPA over its feet-dragging on a Telengana state.

“There is no manifest bitterness in their leaders’ statements,” a source said, adding the TRS may find it tough to go along with the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

With a move afoot to make the BSP the nucleus of the United National Progressive Alliance (UNPA) after Mulayam Singh Yadav’s exit, the TRS could find itself linked indirectly to the front and, therefore, to the Telugu Desam Party, which is avowedly against a Telengana state.

Telugu Desam sources, however, have hinted that the party may review its stand if that helps it become part of a larger alliance with the BSP and the TRS.

The Congress is waiting for a final word from National Conference MP Omar Abdullah, who has had a discussion with Rahul Gandhi. Sources said while Abdullah Junior wasn’t entirely convinced by Rahul’s “youth for nuke deal” line, they hoped he would still vote for the government.

“Abdullah found it hard to continue in the NDA after the Gujarat riots. We hope he will not vote with the BJP ahead of the Jammu and Kashmir election,” a source said.

The Congress denied reports of desertions in Karnataka. The word from the BJP was that two Congress MPs — R. Jalappa and Ambareesh — were willing to vote against the trust motion if the BJP promised them a poll ticket.

Two Congress office-bearers spoke to the two MPs and learnt that while they nursed grudges against state leaders, they “would not let the government down”, party sources said. The MPs were assured that the state party apparatus would be rejigged to accommodate their wishes.

With the NDA apparently determined to stick together, Congress sources said they were not banking on the Shiv Sena or the Biju Janata Dal abstaining, contrary to what party strategists had earlier claimed.

The sources said the Akali Dal would issue a whip, as would the other NDA constituents. “At this point, the Akalis need the BJP’s support more than the BJP (needs them). Without the BJP, they cannot retain their Lok Sabha strength,” a source said.

Tonight, the Congress’s and the BJP’s back-of-the-envelope calculations appeared to match. Both sides said the UPA had 261 and the NDA 257.

Congress sources said the government had the unofficial backing of another five. Up for grabs are 18 MPs, including Mamata Banerjee. Congress sources said their “latest” information was that she might abstain.