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Shrinking Lok Sabha number keeps Congress on its toes

By Renu Mittal
April 20, 2010 23:09 IST
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According to the latest head count by Congress's managers, the United Progressive Alliance has only 271 seats in the Lok Sabha, though the requisite majority in the 545-member House is 273.

The Congress has discounted the three Members of Parliament of the Janata DalĀ - Secular, who have been hobnobbing with the opposition benches. The UPA numbers have dipped after the Samajwadi Party, the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party withdrew outside support to the government.

However, Congress leaders claim that they can count on independent candidates and unattached smaller parties to bolster the figure.

For the ruling party, the issue is not about saving the government, but about crossing the majority mark to send the decisive signal that the UPA enjoys a clear majority and has the moral right to continue in power, say sources.

The government not only has to work overtime to reduce the numbers of the Opposition, which can be managed via abstention, absent benches etc, but also to shore up and increase its own numbers, said an union minister.

The lack of numbers will haunt the ruling coalition every time the Opposition gangs up to put the government on the mat on crucial bills or even on a no-confidence motion.

For the moment, say sources, the government is trying to convince the BSP MPs to remain absent. BSP chief Mayawati is only concerned with how sincere the government is in taking on SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav. Neither the Congress nor the BSP are looking at a relationship; only a casual acquaintance based on mutual need.

Mayawati's 21 MPs can be a life saver for the UPA since the majority calculations will be done on the number of MPs present and voting in the House. .

The Congress is also trying to woo Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh, who has five MPs, as well as independent MPs like Jaswant Singh, who may be persuaded to vote in favour of the government.

The eight MPs of the Nationalist Congress Party have become an important part of these calculations, as also the 20 MPs of Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee, who has disagreed with the government on a number of issues.

The IPL controversy has put a question mark on the long-term relationship between the Congress and the NCP, with Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel claiming that a section of the ruling Congress is out to malign him.

Congress managers believe that NCP chief Sharad Pawar will continue his alliance with the party as he has nowhere to go at this stage.

With the shrinking UPA numbers, the Congress will have to work overtime to keep all its MPs in line and ensure their attendance in the Lok Sabha. All ministers and MPs have been banned from leaving town, say sources.

In a recent meeting of senior party leaders, Congress president and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi warned them, "If you are absent, then we are all out,"

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Renu Mittal