Mulayam keeps govt guessing
With the DMK withdrawing support and pulling out five ministers from the Manmohan Singh government, the UPA seems under siege despite no immediate possibility of it falling as both major outside supporters — the Samajwadi Party and BSP — appear to be trying to extract the maximum from the situation.
If steel minister Beni Prasad Verma’s remarks against Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav are proving to be a sticking point for the SP, quotas in promotion for SCs and STs in government jobs would become a tricky issue in days to come for the Congress to handle as BSP supremo Mayawati would press for it while the SP would oppose it.
Mr Yadav’s party has already demanded that Mr Verma be dropped from the Union Cabinet and many SP leaders said the minister’s expressions of regret and apology would not be sufficient. Mr Verma, a former SP member, has a sour relationship with Mr Yadav and now, given the opportunity, the SP chief wants him removed from government as a condition for support. The SP leadership, however, has called a meeting of party leaders on Thursday and Mr Yadav, while talking to reporters outside Parliament, said “a final decision” would be taken only after that.
Meanwhile, Ms Mayawati had reiterated that her party, the BSP, would continue to support the government from outside. “We will not be part of the government as many of its policies are anti-dalit. We did not join it earlier and even now we will not be part of it. We will continue to support it from outside to keep communal forces at bay,” she told reporters.
The government, while discounting the fast-changing political situation, has put up a brave face, claiming it is “absolutely stable” and “not lame-duck”. It also said India would move amendments to the US-piloted resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC to send a “resolute message” on that country’s human rights record and was working to bring a resolution to be adopted by Parliament here, both demands set by the DMK.
The government fielded three senior ministers — Mr P. Chidambaram, Mr Kamal Nath and Mr Manish Tewari — on Wednesday morning to take questions. They insisted that all was well and questioned the DMK for changing its position within 24 hours even while its demands were in the process of being considered.
“The government is neither lame, nor duck. It is not lame-duck. We are absolutely, absolutely stable. If there is any test, it is on the floor of the House. But no political party has come out to challenge our majority,” Mr Nath said.
Mr Chidambaram, while acknowledging “challenges” in running a coalition government, said, “It is our duty to steer the ship through the maelstrom and our hands are firmly on the wheel.”
Asked whether the government would test its stability by going in for a confidence vote, Mr Chidambaram said, “The question does not arise as we have a majority.”
UPA spin doctors have, however, opened the doors for new and former allies and even Mr Nath conceded as much, saying that in a parliamentary democracy “doors and windows are always kept open”. Sources revealed that Mr Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, held a meeting with JD(U) president Sharad Yadav. Mrs Gandhi herself reached out Mr Yadav in Parliament to placate him on the issue of Mr Verma’s remarks.
Even former ally Trinamul Congress, led by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, has assured support to the UPA on the foreign policy issue. “Our party is deeply concerned about the sentiments expressed by the Tamil people. We share their sentiments and are completely with them. On matters of external policy, we have, from the beginning, always left it to the Central government in moments of crisis. We will do the same on this occasion,” the party said in a tweet on its official account. Sources revealed that prior to the TMC statement Mr Nath had reached out to Ms Banerjee by talking to her Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile, as part of strategy, the BJP-led Opposition alliance NDA has decided not to move a no-confidence motion in the Lok Sabha against the UPA government, insisting instead that the ruling party come up with a trust vote. “We have a precedence, as in 1999 when the AIADMK withdrew support from the Vajpayee government, it was the Congress leadership, which reached out to the then President to issue directions for the trust vote. The Vajpayee government lost the floor test by one vote. Now the same leadership is in power, they should go in for a trust vote.”