Congress hopes hinge on surprises

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By RADHIKA RAMASESHAN in Delhi
  • Published 20.07.08
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New Delhi, July 20: The Congress’s July 22 hopes now hinge on engineering abstentions and defections in the NDA and the Samajwadi Party’s ability to hold its remaining members together.

Once the Congress realised that Mayavati and the reborn United National Progressive Alliance had edged it in the psychological war, it launched a counter-offensive with the enigmatic promise of “last-minute surprises from unexpected quarters”.

The party’s hopes of reaching the majority figure of 271 were dented today when the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Janata Dal (Secular) professed support for Mayavati.

The 545-member House now has 541 votes (two vacancies, no vote from the Speaker and one MP disqualified from voting).

Talks with the three-member RLD fell through allegedly because Ajit Singh demanded the civil aviation or agriculture portfolios, both held by the Nationalist Congress Party.

Also, Ajit wanted the Mathura Lok Sabha seat for son Jayant, the sources said. When Mathura’s Congress MP, Manvendra Singh, heard of this, he allegedly threatened to defect to the BSP.

The Congress, however, hasn’t given up on the JD(S) yet.

“Strategically, had the RLD (along with H.D. Deve Gowda’s party) come on board, it would have had a domino effect on the waverers and fence-sitters. We could have declared a win today,” a source said.

The Congress doesn’t expect the Samajwadis to split the BSP, “but if they hold on to their 34 or 35 MPs, we are through”, a source said.

Congress leaders are iffy about National Conference leader Omar Abdullah. “He’s probably abstaining,” a leader said. The Congress’s best-case scenario is:

Eleven abstentions bringing the total votes down to 530, and the majority mark to 266. But as of now, sources said, the party is still short by five.

They added that at least three BJP members — Dharmendra, D.C. Srikantappa and Harischandra Chavan — might not show up. And there could be “many more dropouts” because L.K. Advani had been edged out of the main frame by Mayavati and Manmohan Singh.

A government win will boost Manmohan and a loss hoist up Mayavati’s graph, leaving Advani the biggest loser, a source argued. “It helps the BJP to keep the government afloat.”

Keeping its house united. “Our MPs won’t go unless they are sure we are losing. So it’s important to keep projecting an aura of winnability,” a minister said.

BJP and Shiv Sena defections. Congress sources cited two names: Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh (BJP) and Tukaram Rege Patil (Sena). Within hours, Brij Bhushan, an Uttar Pradesh MP, had pledged support to the UPA.