New Delhi: The Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government may easily survive the move to destabilize it on Tuesday, when the Opposition moves so-called cut motions on the Budget, but senior leaders of the Congress admitted that the party’s image as a pro-poor one has been dented.
If the cut motions—essentially a show of strength in the house—go through the Lok Sabha, the government will be morally bound to resign.
Under the Constitution, if the government declines to step down, the Opposition will have to move a trust vote against it.
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While both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi said they were “confident” of defeating the cut motions, the fact is that the government has a very slender majority in the Lok Sabha.
This means it will have to depend on smaller parties, possibly the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Rashtriya Janata Dal or the Samajwadi Party to bail it out, a dependence that will, in the coming weeks and months, limit its ability to push through politically sensitive legislations such as the Women’s Reservation Bill.
At the moment, though, the Opposition seems split over its priorities with one section led-by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) favouring putting pressure on the government on the alleged tapping of phones of political allies and rivals, while another prefers to retain focus on controversies surrounding the Indian Premier League (IPL).
These, and the massacre of policemen by Maoists in Dantewada have hit the government hard.
“Yes, the controversies have had an adverse impact on the government’s image. But the Prime Minister’s clean image is still intact,” said P.C. Chacko, a Congress member of Parliament (MP).
The Congress has assiduously, through the pursuit of entitlements for the poor, positioned itself as a political party for the so-called aam aadmi (common man); more recently it has been striving for food security as an entitlement, just as it has provided for the right to education.
However, allegations relating to IPL’s political connections, combined with a sustained political campaign by the Opposition are eroding the pro-poor image of the party.
Congress MPs also admitted that the party has so far failed to send an impression that the coalition is united.
“The floor management in the Lok Sabha is very poor. We have failed to create a united face of the UPA,” said a party MP who did not want to be identified.
The UPA was, however, confident that it would tide over the Opposition’s challenge.
“The UPA government has mustered up adequate strength for passing the Finance Bill 2010-11 in Lok Sabha, even if Opposition parties make a determined bid to throttle it and the Bill will be passed without any hitch” said Union minister for law and justice M. Veerappa Moily, signalling the government’s confidence.
He was speaking at a conference on Intellectual Property Rights organized by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India.
The BJP would like to disagree.
While the BJP and its allies have 151 members in the Lok Sabha, a group of 13 parties, including the Left Front, have 87 MPs in the 543-member lower house. “Not only our own members, all the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) members, which brings the total number to 153 will vote in support of the cutmotion. Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) members who are in alliance with us in Jharkhand would also support the cut motion. We are also in touch with the 13 parties,” said S.S. Ahluwalia, deputy leader of the BJP in the Rajya Sabha.
Jharkhand chief minister Shibu Soren, who has not yet resigned his Lok Sabha membership, despite taking over as state chief minister last December, and his party colleague Kameshwar Baitha, who is in jail presently,would come to Parliament to support the cut motion, added Ahluwalia.
But Uttar Pradesh’s ruling BSP has signalled that its 21 MPs may not vote in favour of the cut motions moved by the Opposition.
“We will take a decision on Tuesday morning,” said BSP MP Brajesh Pathak.
Earlier, senior BJP leader L.K. Advani demanded that the Prime Minister make a statement on the phone tap issue and promulgation of a law to prevent the government from tapping phones of political leaders.
At the same time, members from RJD and SP criticized the BJP for seeking to play down the IPL controversy and focus instead on the phone-tapping issue.
“IPL is a serious issue. Let the government order a (probe by a JPC (joint parliamentary committee) into it,” RJD chief Lalu Prasad, who came to the well of the house, was heard saying. A first time BJP MP, speaking anonymously outside Parliament, concurred and said: “Even our party leaders have many things to hide in the IPL issue. That’s the reason they are not very keen on raising it.”
Denying the news report on phone tapping published by Outlook magazine, home minister P. Chidambaram said: “I wish to state categorically that no telephone tapping or eavesdropping on political leaders was authorized by the previous UPA government. Nor has the present UPA government authorized any such activity.”
Prime Minister Singh rejected the demand for a JPC probe into both the IPL and phone-tapping controversies saying that those were not “fit” cases for such an investigation. “I don’t think there is a need for a JPC. A JPC is a very serious issue. We can’t rush to such a conclusion in haste,” he told reporters on the sidelines of a defence investiture ceremony at the Rastrapati Bhavan.
Continued disruptions of proceedings led to the adjournment of Parliament for the entire day.
Ever since Parliament resumed the Budget session after a recess, its ability to conduct business has been affected.
According to PRS Legislative Research, an independent think tank, the loss of time due to disruptions in the Lok Sabha, thus far since the recess, has been 29% (of the time available) and in the Rajya Sabha, 51%.
Santosh K. Joy and PTI contributed to this story.