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Congress wooing Ajit Singh to save government

By Renu Mittal
April 03, 2010 23:47 IST
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Skating on a razor-thin majority in the Lok Sabha, the Congress managers have zeroed in on Ajit Singh and his five members of Parliament to lend support to the United Progressive Alliance government, and also to help the party get a Rajya Sabha seat from Uttar Pradesh.

Highly placed sources say the negotiations with Singh are at an advanced stage, with one round of discussion having already taken place with senior leader Pranab Mukherjee. The next round will be reportedly held soon.

There are glitches as Singh has asked for one cabinet and one minister of state berth, while the Congress is willing to give only one cabinet berth as he has only five MPs.

Singh has also asked for an assurance that the government would support the creation of Harit Pradesh, a long standing demand of the leaders and parties of western UP, in Parliament. But the Congress is learnt to have said a 'No' to the demand.

The Congress is still reeling under the Telangana promise and has not been able to extricate itself or give any concrete assurance on the creation of the state. The situation in Andhra Pradesh had become almost unmanageable for the Congress and still remains far from settled.

The Congress is also interested in taking the support of Singh's 14 Members of Legislative Assembly in UP, as it would like to try and gather numbers to win a Rajya Sabha seat from the state.

Captain Satish Sharma, an old friend of Rajiv Gandhi, is ending his term from Uttarakhand and the party is not in a position to win the seat, which will most likely go to the Bharatiya Janata Party, as it is the ruling party in the state.

It is learnt that the powers in 10 Janpath want Sharma back in the Rajya Sabha, but with the Congress facing a shortage of seats as there are already a number of leaders and ministers to adjust, the party is now trying to win a seat from UP by bringing Singh on board.

Sources say that if the deal works out, the Congress would give Singh a member of legislative council from UP, which is what he is looking at.

Singh, besides aiming a cabinet berth for himself, also wants a minister of state for his son Jayant, who is a strong votary of an alliance with the Congress and enjoys a good equation with Rahul Gandhi.

After Anuradha Chaudhary lost the Muzaffarnagar seat, Jayant is reportedly looking at flexing his muscles more and more.

The Congress aims at bringing an alliance with Singh before the second half of the budget session begins, where apart from the money bills, the government also wants to pass the Women's Reservation Bill, and introduce the nuclear liability bill.

Presently, the government has a majority of just three MPs, though efforts are on to neutralise Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav to ensure that he does not join the other Yadavs in backing any cut motions.

The Congress had tried to negotiate with Singh earlier, but there has been no success.

If the Congress wants Singh's support, it must manage to give Singh meaty portfolios for himself and his son.

The Congress may also work on cementing a long-term relationship with Singh, as the party needs him in western UP both for the assembly and general elections.

Also looking at the profiles of the constituencies after delimitation, Congress leaders say they would be in a winning position only with the help of Singh.
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Renu Mittal in New Delhi