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Rediff News  All News  » News » Hanging on thin majority, govt faces many risks ahead

Hanging on thin majority, govt faces many risks ahead

March 16, 2010 00:01 IST

With the United Progressive Alliance almost isolated in the wake of the Women's Reservation Bill, the government has decided to avoid the process of voting as far as possible. With the numbers being thin on the ground and the opposition's unity have made it difficult for the Congress-led UPA to get its way on the key legislation.

The government had to back off from introducing the Nuclear Liabilities Bill in the Lok Sabha at the 11th hour, when it came across a determined opposition. Opposition parties the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left opposed the bill, its outside supporting parties the Samajwadi Party and the RJD also opposed the bill, its alliance partner in the government Mamata Banerjee too was unwilling to support the bill; and to top it all 35 Congress Member of Parliament, including ministers, went missing from the House although a whip had been issued for every member's presence.

A show-cause notice is being issued to these members, but the damage is already done, said party managers.

Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, who was keen to travel to the US on April 10 after having either set it in motion or at least having passed the Bill, will now have to go with just the promise that his government would make it into law in the near future.

A senior minister quipped, "He can always carry the draft Bill and show it to the Americans."

Sources say the opposition to the bill is more political than based on merit.

With the opposition parties believing that the prime minister is "bending over backwards to accommodate and please the Americans", particularly in case of the nuclear deal, the current opposition can be seen as a way to break the numbers or as another opportunity to embarrass the government.

Congress leaders admit the entire episode has been a huge embarrassment for the Centre. On Monday morning, the opposition moved 15 notices opposing the nuclear liability bill, after which the parliamentary affairs minister quickly assessed the situation and found the government short of numbers to even introduce the bill.

Deciding to play safe, the Union Minister for Science and Technology Prithviaj Chavan wrote to the Speaker Meera Kumar informing that the government would not introduce the Bill on Monday.

The clincher came when UPA ally Mamata Banerjee too opposed the Bill and a number of its MPs were found absent.

The absent Congress could have been neutralised with absence of almost 20 BSP MPs, who went to Lucknow to attend Mayawati's maha rally, but it was difficult to bridge the deficit due to absence of Mamata's MPs.

It is learnt that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had himself called up leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj on Sunday night and asked for her party's support on the bill.

Swaraj had, reportedly, told the prime minister that her party was opposed to the bill and would not be able to support it.

The prime minister even offered to send the National Security Adviser Shiv Shanker Menon to discuss aspects of disagreement in the bill with her, but Swaraj refused saying that it would make very little difference as they were against the bill.

Similarly, the prime minister also spoke to Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury and did not get a favourable reply.

Sources said Swaraj had been assured by both RJD chief Laloo Prasad Yadav and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav that they would be opposing the Bill.

Also, for the government, the most worrying aspect is the continuing bonhomie between the Left and the Right parties and the almost floor coordination like movements between the two parties.

Hanging on a bare majority of just three MPs, the Congress is now counting every MP in sight.

Happy at the differences within the Janata Dal(United), the Congress is also harping on Independent MPs like Jaya Prada.

The recess time of Parliament is also being constructively used to bring about political divisions within smaller parties, and to threaten the Yadavs into submission.

The Yadavs have pending cases with the Central Bureau of Investigation – which the government may be tempted to use as carrot-and-stick to bring them around.

There are also talks that the prime minister may push for an ordinance in the absence of Parliament clearing the Bill in time.

But this, say senior leaders, would clearly establish how desperate the government is to turn the Bill into a law.

In such a situation, the government would have to come back to Parliament within six months to ratify the ordinance, when again it is likely to face problems.

The fact that the Bill had been circulated and even listed in the business of the house, though not introduced, gives the opposition enough ammunition to attack that the government was bypassing the Parliament and taking the ordinance route, though the Parliament is in session.

With the Lok Sabha adjourning on Tuesday and the Rajya Sabha two days later, the government has a time of three weeks – during which it must get its acts together.

Once the Houses reopen, the government will have to pass the finance bill, save the government from cut motions and pass the Women's Bill in the Lok Sabha, with one Yadav leader threatening to drink poison and the other threatening to make the Bill pass only over his dead body.

Renu Mittal in New Delhi