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UPA Seems To Have Edge, But It Could Be Maya
LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY began the SMS in all caps. The message to two Arunachal Pradesh BJP MPs spelt out this opportunity in two short sentences: ‘‘Don’t miss it. Come and meet the chief minister just once.’’ The chief minister is from the Congress. All five Jharkhand Mukti Morcha MPs are flocking together on the 14th floor of a fivestar hotel within walking distance of Parliament. It’s said their minders are also on the same floor. Ashok Argal, BJP MP from Morena in Madhya Pradesh, will lose his seat in the next Lok Sabha polls because delimitation will make it a reserved seat. Hence, he was restless. And was approached by those who promised to ease his sorrow. In the nick of time, BJP got wind of this and Argal has now been promised an Assembly ticket. Congress managers have realized that the going rate for support has climbed unrealistically high. One BJP MP from Gujarat asked for Rs 35 crore. The managers felt it was too high. They have told the MP that they’ll get back. Till late evening, they hadn’t. Bets are still on, and it could go either way. But after several days of hard bargaining and aggressively chasing Opposition rebels, the numbers seemed to be tilting in favour of the Manmohan Singh government with UPA managers securing the support of most Independents and small northeast parties as well as successfully raiding the NDA flock. The no-holds-barred tactics employed by the government’s vote managers—using lures of all sorts—appear to have paid off with the ruling coalition confident that there would be crucial desertions from BJP and Shiv Sena ranks. This silent vote, and the support of smaller groups, could propel the government past the majority mark with some MPs to spare. As it tried to mop up support, the government’s strategy also aimed at ensuring that Opposition rebels absented themselves during Tuesday’s vote, bringing down the number of MPs required for crossing the majority mark. In this, NDA seemed to have been at the receiving end of the attention of Congress managers who urged rebels to not only abstain but issue statements denouncing BJP’s “double standards” on the India-US nuclear deal. What seems to have helped the government was the impression that the Opposition challenge was not really firm. The lack of mobilisation— other than the efforts of BSP chief Mayawati—saw the waverers and small groups gravitate towards the government. Typically, Independents and one- or two-MP parties do not want to be caught on the wrong side in a contest such as the vote due in Lok Sabha on Tuesday. On top of that, the temptations were so high that an MP joc
ularly remarked that a windfall tax could be levied on them.
Senior BJP sources admitted that party MPs were subject to a fierce Congress operation. With even hospitalised MPs not being spared the attention of poachers, the disquiet in BJP was obvious. Apart from Shiv Sena rebel Tukaram Renge Patil, at least one more Sainik was preparing to change colours. In fact, Congress managers
claimed there could be more desertions from the Thackeray stable. As reports came in of vulnerable MPs in Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, UP, Maharashtra and Gujarat, spirits in the saffron camp began to droop. Other groups like TDP were pointing out how BJP had let the anti-UPA campaign down. The worries in the BJP camp spread fast, demoralising NDA ranks. It gave a boost to the government which sensed the Opposition challenge faltering. BJP leaders were quick to denounce ‘‘mercenary’’ tactics of the ruling party but could do little to explain why the party’s own MPs were proving so fickle, all the more so as the saffron outfit had been arguing that Congress was in decline in most states. The much-anticipated counter-poaching by BSP beyond the five Samajwadi Party turncoats is yet to materialise. Mayawati has told her new allies in the UNPA that this tally could rise to seven SP MPs and two Congress MPs. On this alone now rest the hopes of the Opposition. By evening, however, Congress managers had secured two MPs from UP—Rajesh Mishra and Surendra Goyal—who were suspected to be wavering. SP was also keeping a hawk-eyed watch on its flock. Indications were that even SP rebel Afzaal Ansari may vote for the government. The vote is still likely to be close, even as the government claimed its tally had crossed 272. Among north-east groups whose support it claimed to have sewed up are Nagaland People’s Front, Outer Manipur MP Mani Charenamei and Kokrajhar MP S Bwiswmuthiary. Two BJP MPs from Arunachal have resisted Congress’s attempts. Though Mizo MP Vanlalzawma has declared he is abstaining, Congress managers remained hopeful. Independent from Ladakh Thupstan Chhewang may back the UPA, said Congress sources who also claimed the support of the two-MP National Conference. The NC will show its hand only during voting. But all the UPA’s calculations rest on one hope—that Mayawati doesn’t still have a trick or two up her sleeve. HEARD INSTINCT Bihar chief minister and NDA leader Nitish Kumar opened another front in the ongoing war of words on Monday morning, calling the UPA United Poachers Association’. Before long, Parliament Street was buzzing with catchphrases as legislators scrambled to have fun with puns. Among the buzzwords heard on Parliament Street: BSP: Buying Samajwadi Party SP: Service Provider NDA: Non-Delivery Agents CPM: Cross-Party Manoeuvres EFFECTIVE VOTING STRENGTH: 541 MAGIC FIGURE: 271 Afew days ago, we front-paged a report saying that the run-up to the trust vote had begun to resemble the last few overs of a deadheat T20 match. We're now in the final over, and it still looks like it could be anybody's game. Every hour brings with it a fresh rumour — of an MP defecting, of another MP being persuaded to abstain. The list of ‘undecided’ MPs swells and shrinks, depending on which side of the fence you’re on. Don’t be surprised if a few MPs get themselves admitted to hospital, or are generally indisposed. In that case, the target votes would no longer be 271 (given an effective Lok Sabha voting strength of 541), but less. The numbers alongside are, therefore, an approximation. Given the hectic dealmaking and the mouth-watering inducements that are being held out, it’s entirely possible that the final count of ayes and nays on the floor of Parliament will be at variance with the numbers here
Cong 151, Lalu’s RJD 24, Pawar’s NCP 11, Karunanidhi’s DMK 16, Ramadoss’ PMK 6, Soren’s JMM 5, Paswan’s LJP 4, Plus one each from Owaisi’s MIM, Mehbooba’s PDP, Muslim League, NLP, RPI(A) and SDF
SP & Others 46:
SP 34, MDMK rebels 2, BJP rebels 2, JD(U) rebels 2, Omar Abdullah’s NC 2, Shiv Sena rebel 1, TRS rebel 1, Delkar's BNP 1, Independent 1
BJP 128, Shiv Sena 11, Patnaik’s BJD 11, Akali Dal 8, JD(U) 6, Cong rebel 1
CPM 42, CPI 10, Forward Bloc 3, RSP 3 Kerala Congress 1 Independent 1
BSP & Others 42:
BSP 17, TDP 5, SP rebels 5, Gowda's JD(S) 3, Ajit Singh’s RLD 3, MDMK 2, TRS 2, AGP 2, Ind 2, Cong rebel 1 ABSTAIN: 1 Mamata Banerjee UNDECIDED: 4 MNF 1, NPF 1, Independents 2 NO VOTE: 2 Speaker, except if tie; P C Thomas due to SC order Bookies betting on govt survival Political analysts may still be unwilling to hazard a guess about the fate of the UPA, but bookies are happily putting their money where their analysis is. And they’ve made the government odds-on favourite. Betting on the UPA staying in office will yield you a return of only 50 paise on the rupee. The odds being offered on the NDALeft delivering a knockout punch are Rs 1.75 for every rupee bet. But most bettors are apparently putting their money on the government being toppled—a result of the attractive odds? In all, almost Rs 1,500 crore is said to have been wagered so far across the country. P 3
Markets, industry back UPA to win
Like bookies, market players too seem confident that the government will pull through the trust vote. On Monday, the Sensex stayed positive throughout, closing at 13,850, up 215 points or 1.6% over Friday’s closing figure. The benchmark index has now risen 1,300 points in the last three trading sessions. India Inc too seems to be confident about the government’s prospects. Responding to a survey by industry body Assocham, 72% of CEOs said the UPA would sail through the trust vote and push ahead with reforms in pension, insurance, civil aviation and labour. P 19 MP: Cong to BSP to Cong to BSP The run-up to the trust vote has seen many a flip-flop, but Congress MP from Karnal Arvind Sharma takes the cake. Sharma on Monday went back to the Mayawati camp for the second time in three days. On Friday, the dentist-turnedpolitician had,
for the first time, attacked the government for “targeting” BSP chief Mayawati, sending Congress managers scrambling to bring him back to the fold. A one-on-one audience at 10, Janpath was speedily arranged. By Monday morning, Sharma had been ‘‘convinced’’ to rejoin the ranks. But even as the debate raged in Parliament, Sharma announced that he was back with Mayawati. P 13
Mayawati steals Advani’s thunder
If it was coincidence, then it was certainly a most interesting one. On Monday, BSP leader Mayawati began a press conference barely five minutes after BJP leader L K Advani started speaking in Parliament on the trust vote. It had been quietly let out that the BSP leader would parade some more SP MPs who had switched sides. So, even as the leader of the opposition was holding forth on the trust vote, some TV channels switched to Mayawati’s press conference in anticipation of news on new defectors. It’s another matter that no such announcement was made at the conference. P 11
Advani flat; Left, UPA allies spare each other
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
New Delhi: The Left’s sense of anger at being jilted by Congress was all too apparent on Monday. So was the new-born animosity between the comrades and their one-
time heartland favourite, Samajwadi Party. But in the midst of the barbs, there appeared to be a curious, if unspoken, compact that saw Left not attacking UPA partners and the compliment being returned. The debate was initiated by Manmohan Singh and kicked off by BJP’s PM-in-waiting L K Advani. But Advani was uncharacteristically thanda, some called his speech ‘‘lacklustre’’. Obviously, he was being judged by his own high oratorial reputation. CPM’s Mohammed Salim rose as the Left’s lead speaker. He took a dig at LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan who had sauntered in a little leisurely at 12.10 pm. “Paswan has been in the NDA, he is now in UPA. But when he came did he bring the NDA agenda with him? We supported Congress on a common agenda, and that had no mention of the nuclear deal.” Paswan feebly protested, but that was the only instance of a Congress ally being targetted by the otherwise surly Left. Their aggression might have been greater but for the embarrassment of Speaker Somnath Chatterjee defying Left emissaries urging him to quit before the trust vote. Yet, Salim’s criticism of Congress was hardhitting while he more or less ignored its allies. There could be subtext to the courtesy UPA partners and the Left accorded each other on a day when SP’s lead speaker Ram Gopal Yadav blamed the confrontation over the deal on the ego of ‘‘one individual’’(read Prakash Karat).
DAY OF RECKONING
Cong, SP pact to endure storm
New Delhi: The Left speakers were harsh on Congress and SP in the Lok Sabha on Monday but they preferred not to attack UPA partners. On their part, UPA parties like the DMK that share an electoral arrangement with the Left, were soft on it. The DMK’s T R Baalu, for instance, talked about Left’s ‘patriotism’ even as he spoke against it for being misguided. RJD chief Lalu Prasad, in his inimitable style, has often enough said that the “Left bhais’” would return to the UPA fold. His party MP Devendra Yadav was similarly soft on Monday. The Left is not a very significant factor in Bihar, but it will always count at the national level in an era of coalition politics. And there was no reason why the RJD should court the Left’s fury. The debate itself saw more politics than the specifics of the deal being discussed. Except for Advani and foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee, not too many others made detailed references to the deal, the exceptions being Mukherjee’s deputy Anand Sharma and science and technology minister Kapil Sibal who has been a frontline speaker on the deal. For most others, it was politics to the fore. As the debate progressed, it was evident that it was never going to be about the merits of the deal itself. Old and new divides were on display as the Left sparred with the SP. Left speakers also brushed aside Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s acknowledgement of their support by brusquely observing “we don’t need certificates’’, only to hear the treasury benches yell back, “Ab Mayawati se le lo (Get them now from Mayawati).’’ United by their desire to settle a few scores with the SP, Left and BSP MPs made for strange bedfellows. Having usually viewed the BSP with a mixture of apprehension and disapproval, Left MPs found themselves nodding when their new ally spoke of how the two parties would protest the government’s desire to “mortgage’’ India’s interests to Washington.TNN
MAN OF THE HOUR? The usually reticent PM’s exuberant body language on Monday took many by surprise
OTHER NEWS OF THE DAY
IIT-B chief quits, joins US company
IIT-Bombay director Ashok Misra has quit the post he held for eight years and joined a Washingtonbased private firm. P 2
Virar commuters run riot:
Rail traffic between Virar and Vasai stations in WR was disrupted for nearly five hours on Monday as Virar commuters went on the rampage at Virar and Nalasopara stations. They were upset at being unable to board trains at the starting point. P 5
Life for acid throwers?:
Throwing acid, or even hot water, on anyone may attract a harsh sentence including life term. The Centre told the Supreme Court on Monday that it was mulling over a separate provision in the IPC to make it a serious offence. P 12
More power cuts for industries:
The state on Monday asked industries in the state to face power cuts for 16 to 32 hours at a stretch in a week. P 4
MPT tender postponed:
The MPT on Monday postponed its Rs 402 crore tender, the fourth time since April, to fill up the Princess and Victoria docks. P 5
Big B loses bags yet again:
Amitabh Bachchan’s checked-in baggage woes continue. He lost his bags yet again, this time while travelling from Toronto to Trinidad by Air Canada. P 2
Privilege move against Purke:
A privilege motion was filed against education minister Vasant Purke on Monday for his pro-sex education stand. P 5
Modak Sagar overflows:
Modak Sagar has become the first of the lakes supplying water to the city to overflow. P 3
Maha drama now in Delhi
Missing MP Keeps Sena Guessing As Parties Go All Out To Ensure Victory In Tuesday’s Trust Vote
Ambarish Mishra & Somit Sen I TNN
Mumbai: “I don’t know where my father is. He could be present in Parliament during the trust vote on Tuesday,’’ said Balasaheb, the son of missing Shiv Sena MP from Parbhani, Tukaram Renge-Patil. When this correspondent called up Renge-Patil’s official residence at 68, North Avenue, in New Delhi on Monday, a person close to the family said, “Saheb is not in Delhi and his whereabouts are not known.’’ The case of the “missing MP’’ has set the alarm bells ringing in the state CID with key officers pulling out all stops to gather details on the MP’s whereabouts and the reason of his disappearance. Interestingly, the 50-year-old Renge-Patil is a member of the Lok Sabha committee on “absence of members from sittings of the House’’. The Sena is not sure if chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh or revenue minister Narayan Rane has wooed the Parbhani MP in the run-up to the July 22 trust vote. The Sena has a strength of 12 MPs in the Lok Sabha and even a single case of crossvoting or abstention could lead to an embarrassment for the party, said an insider. Sources in Parbhani said Renge-Patil distanced himself from the Sena as he was reportedly miffed with the party’s local unit. A Sena legislator told TOI on Monday that the Congress had for long been making overtures to Renge-Patil. “A prominent Congress leader from Marathwada has weaned Renge-Patil away from the Sena,’’ he added. A law graduate from Aurangabad, Renge-Patil is an agriculturist and has also been a social worker. He was an MLA in the Maharashtra Assembly for two terms, in 1995 and 2004, before being elected to the 14th Lok Sabha. He has been on several
other committees too—human resource development, committee on papers laid on the table and standing committee on rural development.
Bookies give PM edge in battle royale
S Balakrishnan I TNN
Mumbai: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has some cause for cheer ahead of the make-or-break trust vote on Tuesday. Bookies are placing odds of 50 paise on the UPA winning the confidence vote and Rs 1.75 on Singh being thrown out of office. This means that for every rupee placed in favour of Singh, the bookie will get Rs 1.50. If the government collapses, then he stands to get Rs 2.75. Until a few days ago, the odds were 40 paise for Singh and Rs 2.75 against him. With the political temperature rising in the country over Tuesday’s trust vote, betting is peaking in Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Surat, Delhi, Indore, Kolkata, Bangalore and other cities. Sources said bookies in Karachi and Dubai, too, have evinced keen interest in the fate of the government. Police sources pointed out that till late Monday evening, more than Rs 1,500 crore had been placed on the edge-of-the-seat political drama that was unfolding in New Delhi. A leading bookie said the odds for the UPA winning by two votes was 75 paise, by
three votes Re 1, by four votes Rs 1.50 and by five votes and more Rs 5. All leading bookies, including Sunil Dubai, Sobhan Kalachowkie, Hitesh Samrat, Ajay Maheshwari, who incidentally lives in the bungalow of a top Bollywood actor in Juhu, and Laxmi Thana are learnt to be deeply interested in the political drama. On the role of the police, a leading bookie told TOI on condition of anonymity, “The police have taken a heavy hit following the closure of matka. The developments in Delhi are giving them an opportunity to extort huge sums from us. But we do not mind as we also stand to make major gains on Tuesday.’’ Some of the bookies and their agents are camping in five-star hotels in Delhi not only to fix the outcome, but also to get inside information. The apparent change of mind on the part of Ajit Singh and Deve Gowda is being closely watched by the bookies. Every little move on the political chessboard is being factored in by them.
BEYOND THE SMOKE
Does BMC have power to ban hookahs: HC
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
Mumbai: The Bombay high court on Monday asked the BMC if it had the authority to ban the serving of hookahs in city restaurants. “Is there any provision of the law in Maharashtra to ban (the) serving of hookahs?’’ asked a division bench of Justices RMS Khandeparkar and Amjad Sayed, even as the corporation told the court that it would not implement its circular banning hookah parlours. “The object may be laudable, but it must be reflected in actions,’’ said the bench, asking the corporation to file an affidavit justifying its stand on the hookah ban. The court was hearing a petition filed by Khar-based Kosmic restaurant, which challenged a BMC notice warning it against serving hookahs. Senior advocate Navroz Seervai and advocate R Nirula represented the restaurant and argued that neither the BMC nor the state had the powers to ban hookahs. Seervai pointed out that there was a special law to regulate the use of tobacco— the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act. “The law, in fact, allows hookahs in restaurants as long as they have special places designated as smoking areas,’’ said Seervai. To substantiate their claim, the lawyers for the restaurant cited the Supreme Court judgment that lifted the ban on gutka and pan masala in 2004.
In its circular dated July 29, the BMC justified the ban, saying the “consumption or smoking of hookah is affecting the health of the younger generation, especially college students.’’ The circular also directed medical officers of every ward to take action against establishments violating licence conditions and running hookah parlours on their premises. Senior advocate A Y Sakhare, counsel for the BMC, argued that action against hookah parlours were initiated under Section 395 of the BMC Act, which provides for revoking of licences in the interest of public safety. The judges, however, were not convinced and asked the BMC advocate whether there were any guidelines to define public safety. The court scheduled the matter for further hearing on August 5. firstname.lastname@example.org
Government keeping watchful eye on section of Sena MPs
Prafulla Marpakwar I TNN
Mumbai: A day before Tuesday’s trust vote, the Congress-led Democratic Front government in Maharashtra stepped up vigil around the offices and residences of a section of Shiv Sena MPs. A senior home department official on Monday confirmed that special security had been provided at the residences and offices of some Sena MPs. “We don’t know whether they will vote in favour of the trust vote or otherwise, but we have provided security cover for a section of the Shiv Sena MPs,’’ an official said. Security for Parbhani Sena MP Tukaram Renge Patil has already been stepped up. Renge Patil did not attend the meeting convened by Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday and also skipped the meet organised by Sena parliamentary party leader Anant Gite. “Special security has been provided at his Parbhani residence and office,’’ the official said. According to reports, Renge reached New Delhi via Latur, the hometown of chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, and Hyderabad. In political circles, word is going around that the Congress is making all possible efforts to ensure the support of at least 3-4 Sena MPs on Tuesday. Some senior
Congress and NCP leaders have been in touch with the Sena MPs who are said to be in “two minds”. The law-enforcing agencies that have provided special security to a section of Sena MPs refused to identify them. Significantly, Gite made it clear on Sunday that all Sena MPs were intact and that they would vote against the UPA government.
War of words & world views
Debate on nuclear deal spills into political mudslinging as parties fight to gain the edge
Pranab makes a
Given the rumours that have repeatedly dogged Pranab Mukherjee about his commitment to the deal, or whether he was ‘‘soft’’ on the Left, the foreign minister’s spirited defence of the deal and the government on Monday set the tone for the government and supporters of the nuclear agreement in the Parliament debate. Clad in a formal Bengali silk kurta with gold buttons, Pranab made a persuasive argument for giving India the option to access nuclear energy. The foreign minister said even a cursory review of the energy scenario in India would show that the country would need to urgently tap nuclear energy, like France did. Comparing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the then French President Charles de Gaulle, he said the latter too was faced with similar opposition when he decided to take France towards nuclear energy. He said that without access to imported nuclear fuel, India would face an energy deficit of 412 gigawatts (GWe) and a potential coal import of 1.6 billion tonne, which would be an environmental disaster. He joined issue with Leader of Opposition L K Advani’s description of the UPA government as being in a minority. Pranab did his ‘‘simple arithmetic’’ to show the UPA had 276 members on its rolls. He denied Left allegations that the government had not kept them in the loop. First, he said, this was a more transparent agreement than any done so far. Defending the government’s decision to keep the draft text of the safeguards pact from the Left, he said this was part of the procedure followed by Indian governments for decades. Even the famous Indo-Soviet friendship treaty was not made public until much later, he said. Pranab said when he asked the Left to meet on July 10 to wrap up the findings of the UPALeft panel, the Leftists said that since the PM had announced on the flight to Japan that they would go to the IAEA soon, they were withdrawing support. The formal letter from the Left leaders, he said, came at 12.30 pm on July 8. It was after that the government decided to react. ‘‘Please remember, when it was 12.30 pm in India, it was only 9 am in Vienna.’’ That was when, he said, the government asked the IAEA board to convene a meet of the members. He said India as a founding member of IAEA and a permanent member of its board could not share a confidential text with people outside the government. Referring to the Hyde Act, Pranab admitted it contained ‘‘prescriptive’’ sections but these would not apply to India, which would only be bound by the 123 pact. On
Monday, he characterized India’s IAEA safeguards pact and a potential NSG waiver as a ‘‘passport and visa’’. ‘‘NSG and IAEA clearances are like passport and visa. It depends on us whether we travel or not. But if there is no passport we cannot travel,’’ he said. ‘‘Please, let us have this passport and visa. Then we will decide whether to travel and if we travel, what should be the destination.’’ Reminding the BJP of the WTO agreement, Pranab said while the BJP had opposed the Congress on India joining the WTO, when it had come to power, the WTO pact that went through was the same that the Congress had drafted, with cosmetic changes.
Advani puts PM in his crosshairs, says Singh alone to blame for crisis
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stood in the direct line of fire as Leader of Opposition L K Advani held him responsible for the present political crisis. The India-US nuclear deal had become an ‘‘agreement between two individuals rather than between two countries’’ making India ‘‘subservient’’ and a ‘‘junior partner’’, Advani told the House, as he opened the debate on Monday. Speaking on the confidence motion moved by the PM, the BJP leader accused Manmohan Singh of having opposed the 1998 Pokhran II tests, triggering an immediate rebuttal by Singh who said he had only spoken about sanctions and whether the country was prepared for it. Advani referred to ‘‘sharp exchanges’’ during that period in Rajya Sabha between Singh and late BJP leader K R Malkani, but the PM retorted saying let any objective person read the proceedings and draw his own conclusions. Singh said his remarks on the tests and the criticisms were made in the context of sanctions imposed on India after the tests and also in light of India’s stand on nonproliferation. ‘‘I don’t agree with the Left. We differ on various issues. But if the government is destabilized after four years and two months...and faces the likelihood of being voted out... then this situation has been brought about not by opposition NDA or even the Leftists,’’ Advani said. ‘‘This has been invited by the government itself, and Mr Prime Minister, I am sorry to say, by you personally,’’ he said, adding that even Left parties ‘‘wanted to prolong’’ it. ‘‘Please don’t blame anyone else. It is your government and in a way you, personally, and even the Congress president, without whom you would not take a single step, who are to be blamed. The opposition has played no role in this,’’ Advani said, claiming that his party would strive to ‘‘defeat the government on the floor of the House’’. Saying that the situation was entirely brought about by Singh, and not precipitated by NDA or even Left parties, Advani said people would decide in the next elections ‘‘even if the government survives tomorrow’’. Reminding Singh that he had sparked the political impasse with his interview to a Kolkata newspaper where he had said that if the Left parties wanted to withdraw support, ‘‘so be it’’, the BJP leader said, ‘‘If the government was so serious about the (nuclear) deal, why was it not mentioned in the CMP or even the Congress manifesto. It is a kind of an agreement between two individuals and one happens to be the PM.’’ Attacking the government for speaking in ‘‘different voices’’, Advani said foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee had assured the Left that India would approach the IAEA for the safeguards agreement only after getting the approval of Parliament. But the PM chose to give a different line and suddenly the draft agreement was sent to the nuclear watchdog. The draft text was described as ‘‘privileged’’ and ‘‘classified’’ but it was circulated to IAEA members first.
Clarifying that BJP was not against forging close relations with the US but was against India being party to a deal which was ‘‘unequal’’, Advani said, ‘‘If people vote NDA back to power, we will renegotiate the deal to make it equal.” He drew a distinction between defeating the government and destabilizing it: ‘‘It is not in our nature to destabilize governments. You may do it with Chandrashekhar’s government or those of H D Deve Gowda or I K Gujral.’’
Caught between a ‘‘neo-liberal’’ Congress-led government and a BJP-dominated opposition it had accused of being communal, the Left on Monday fought back to define its space in a confusing political landscape. Participating in the Lok Sabha debate on the motion of confidence, the Left was clearly on a difficult ground — alienated after its withdrawal of support from the government without exactly having won a new ally. For the first time in a very long time, the Left found itself at the receiving end of barbs from the Congress, SP and the BJP benches. Though Leader of Opposition L K Advani was diplomatic in paying quite a few compliments to the Left to make use of the Marxists’ new antagonism towards the government, those guarded praises actually became an acute source of embarrassment for Left members as he went on talking about the Amarnath shrine, Vaishnodevi and the government’s alleged reluctance to get proactive in pursuing terror cases. The Left, however, put up a strong defence of its action charging the Manmohan Singh government with kowtowing to the Bush administration at the cost of its allies. Mohammed Salim (CPM) ascribed the rupture in the Left-UPA relations to the government’s zeal in entering the US orbit, making a departure from the country’s time-tested independent foreign policy. He accused the UPA regime of having ‘‘outsourced’’ its foreign policy to the US. Recalling the glorious tradition of the freedom struggle and the role Congress had played in that movement, Salim said the government seemed to have sacrificed that great heritage and was shamelessly kowtowing to the US. ‘‘The question is not of trust but trustworthiness,’’ he said, bluntly charging the prime minister of ‘‘betraying’’ the Left. He wondered why the government was in such a hurry in pushing the nuclear agreement when it had not been part of the common minimum programme on the basis of which the Left had extended support to the UPA regime. ‘‘It was not even part of the Congress manifesto,’’ he pointed out. ‘‘Was the CMP signed with George W Bush?’’ he asked. Defending his party’s decision to pull out from the ruling coalition, he said that the challenge at the moment was to save the country from both the ‘‘deal and dealers’’. He, however, made it clear that for the Left, the BJP could never be an ally because of its ‘‘communal agenda’’. He said for the Left, fighting ‘‘imperialism’’ was as important as taking on communal forces. Salim said that the government was duty-bound to explain why it had ‘‘betrayed’’ a friend for a tie-up with ‘‘sinister forces’’. —TNN
SINGH ON SONG | PM exudes confidence before the Parliament debate on Monday
A legislative foray into executive power?
Dhananjay Mahapatra | TNN
In the past, Parliament has seen many a confidence motion on political as well as non-political issues, but never before has a treaty—stemming from the country’s foreign policy—been central to a trust motion, which the Manmohan Singh government moved in the House on Monday. The capacity to enter into a treaty with another country, conferred on the Centre by Article 73 of the Constitution, falls squarely under the sovereign executive power that requires no ratification by Parliament. So, by making the India-US nuclear deal the core issue of the motion, is the PM setting a precedent that henceforth, even treaties should get a stamp of approval from Parliament? And, would this step to seek trust vote on a matter that fell squarely within the
foreign policy realm erode the sovereign executive power, which the Centre has enjoyed under Article 73 of the Constitution unhindered since the blue book came into force on January 26, 1950? The fears don’t impress constitutional experts, who are unanimous that though treaties entered into by the government don’t need ratification by Parliament, the latter is entitled to debate and discuss any such bilateral agreement if its contents affect the nation vitally. Former attorney-general Soli Sorabjee and constitutional experts K K Venugopal and Rajeev Dhawan said the Manmohan Singh government’s move reflected the supremacy of Parliament when it came to matters of national importance, treaty or no treaty. Dhawan, however, threw up an interesting question — Why did the government put its neck on the line along with the treaty by moving a confidence vote, when it could have sought the mandate of the House on the treaty alone? Sorabjee said, ‘‘Even though the Constitution may not require Parliament to ratify the treaty, there is no bar on the House or majority members thereof to seek accountability from the government on important issues which are central to a treaty.’’ ‘‘It isn’t necessary for the government to seek ratification of a treaty from Parliament, but keeping in view the importance and consequences of the deal it would only be prudent to put it before Parliament. It would not amount to erosion of the executive treaty making power of the government.’’ Venugopal doesn’t think that there is any constitutional or legal impediment for a government to seek Parliament’s view on an issue as important as the N-deal. ‘‘All issues which affect the nation can legitimately be debated in Parliament. The fact that a treaty, unlike in the US, need not be ratified by Parliament doesn’t mean that it’s beyond the scope of debate and discussion in Parliament. In this case, the government itself volunteered to move a trust motion on this issue and the matter is beyond the pale of controversy.’’ Dhawan said, ‘‘The government committed harakiri by moving a trust motion on the N-deal. It could well have put the deal on debate and put it to vote. If the majority had okayed it, then the government could have gone ahead. But by moving a trust vote on the treaty, the government has put its neck on the line along with the fate of the deal.’’
Mayawati steals Advani’s thunder with SP defectors
Ignoring BJP Leader’s Speech In Lok Sabha, Media Rush to BSP Chief’s Briefing On Defections, Iran Pipeline
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
New Delhi: In a press conference that was as significant for its timing as for its content, BSP chief Mayawati on Monday demanded that the government suspend the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal and leave it for the next government to deal with after the elections. The UP chief minister’s press conference started barely five minutes after BJP leader L K Advani began to speak in Parliament on the trust vote. Before the press meet, it had been quietly let out that the BSP leader would parade some more SP MPs who had switched sides. Hence, the media, especially TV, was present at Mayawati’s briefing in full strength. Whether the timing was intended to steal Advani’s thunder or not, some TV channels switched to Mayawati’s conference in anticipation of news on SP defectors. In short, the focus was off the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Going a step further than both the BJP and the Left, which have been accusing the government of misleading the country on the N-deal, the BSP leader claimed that the deal would actually compromise India’s energy security.
The deal was being pushed through in haste, Mayawati claimed, because once it was done, the US would be looking to launching military action against Iran. Accusing the government of reducing India to a “slave” of the US, the Dalit leader said the deal would hamper India’s plans for an Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, ‘‘which was crucial for the country’s future power generation plans’’. She also pointed out that fears of an armed conflict between the US (or Israel) and Iran were among the major reasons for the rising oil prices and inflation. The entire world would have to bear the consequences of such a conflict, Mayawati added. “India will be held responsible if this happens,” she said while asserting that it would only make matters worse for the common man. Unlike the Left or BJP, she went a step beyond merely accusing the government of neglecting an important issue like inflation in its zeal for pursuing the N-deal. By linking the two, she effectively argued that the N-deal would add to inflation. While the reference to Iran was at one level perceived as an appeal to Muslim sentiments, it was clear that the BSP supremo was looking at more than just a narrow sectional appeal in her meeting with mediapersons.
Somnath’s tension with party, Karat reaches breaking point
CPM May Expel Defiant Speaker
TIMES NEWS NETWORK New Delhi: Those watching Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee at work on Monday could have hardly guessed that he is at the centre of a raging controversy and his party is considering serious action against the veteran politician. The Speaker was his usual ebullient self, presiding over the special session of Lok Sabha with jokes and admonitions galore. However, Chatterjee’s cool demeanour has left many in the CPM squirming. His is the first defiance by a senior leader against general secretary Prakash Karat. He could even get expelled from the party once the short Lok Sabha session for the trust vote is over. The party wanted the Speaker quit his post before the trust vote but Chatterjee refused to do so, arguing that the Speaker’s post was above politics. Now, the CPM is hoping that he will step down after Tuesday’s vote. On Sunday evening, a last ditch attempt was made by West Bengal state secretary Biman Bose to reason out with Chatterjee to toe the party line. It didn’t work, as a gleeful Chatterjee was back with official business on Monday. Apart from his public defiance, no one in the party knows what Chatterjee has in mind. Will he resign once the debate gets over? Will he exercise the casting vote against the government in case of a tie? Or will Chatterjee just continue to occupy the Speaker’s seat? One thing, however, is clear — whatever he does now, he has antagonised the CPM leadership beyond repair. The party has already made up its mind about him. The overwhelming view in the central committee meeting that concluded on Sunday was that he needed to be disciplined. The CC agreed with Karat’s stand that talk of Speaker sans party and
politics was hypocritical. The final decision in this regard has been left to the politburo. Publicly, the party continues to maintain that the decision has been left to Chatterjee but the knives are out for him. What has further embarrassed the party is news of Chatterjee planning to travel abroad for a conference as Speaker of Lok Sabha in early August. Action against him is likely to take place before that. If he is indeed expelled from the party, he can continue as Speaker as long as the government lasts as an independent member of the House. Meanwhile, the veteran parliamentarian facing his party’s ire had his family — wife Renu Chatterjee flanked by daughters Anuradha and Anushila — for company on Monday, seated in the Speaker’s gallery to cheer him. This could well be the last session that Chatterjee conducts in the Lok Sabha, if he decides to resign from the chair.
Party Wants Answers From Chief
Akshaya Mukul | TNN New Delhi: A day before the crucial CPM Central Committee meeting began on Saturday, a rumour emanated from Kolkata and a section of AKG Bhavan that the party’s highest body would put an end to general secretary Prakash Karat’s misadventure on the nuclear deal especially the decision to vote against the government along with BJP. In the name of the so-called ‘‘Bengal line’’, many insiders pointed to how Karat mishandled the situation and pushed his line. In a conspiratorial tone, few even said the defiance by West Bengal transport minister Subhash Chakraborty was triggered by the Bengal leadership. But the list of complaints against Karat was long. Why did he trust the government’s word on the safeguards pact? Why did SP leave the Left bandwagon? What happened to Karat’s stand of ‘no deal, no government’? If all this was not enough, a leader derisively summed up tango with Mayawati as, ‘‘Sab Maya hai.’’ However, Karat’s action, especially the unthinkable move of driving down to Mayawati’s house, was up for the CC endorsement. ‘‘The anti-deal group got emboldened to take on the government in the numbers game only after Left-BSP leaders met,’’ says a CPM leader. The CC meeting was Karat’s moment of reckoning, of establishing himself as a streetsmart politician who could handle a maverick Mayawati, hard-bargainer Ajit Singh and unpredictable Deve Gowda. A leader says this CC meeting was almost similar to the one held last September when most of the 70-odd members wanted CPM to withdraw support and vote against the government. In the meeting, Karat explained how the government betrayed Left despite the latter’s attempt to be reasonable and how CPM could not have avoided taking the extreme step just because it could result in an election. An early election would make no difference but compromising with imperialism would take away the lynchpin of the party’s existence, he said. The CC agreed with him and endorsed the withdrawal decision. It also authorised the politburo to have an alliance with parties like BSP, RLD, TDP and JD(S). The CC also decided to publicly censure Chakraborty and left it to the politburo to firm up action against Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. But there are questions that many in CPM want addressed. Is CPM happy with allegations of horse trading against Mayawati also? Doesn’t it compromise Left’s stand on clean politics? Can it be the foundation of a long relationship with BSP? Doesn’t tying up with BSP and others compromise Karat’s vision of an issue and programmebased third alternative? Above all, if the government survives the trust
vote Karat’s aim of ‘no deal, no government’ stands shattered.
LOOKING AHEAD? Somnath Chatterjee arrives at Parliament on Monday
Stargazers predict victory for PM
Atul Sethi | TNN
In case the government survives the trust vote on Tuesday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can probably thank his stars. Literally. Based on the planetary configurations in the PM’s birthchart, most astrologers are unanimous in proclaiming that the government would be able to sail through the motion, although they differ on the level of difficulty that the Congress party and the government are likely to face thereafter. According to astrologer M Sivagurunathan, who accurately predicted the margin of Pratibha Patil’s victory in the presidential election last year, the chances of the government’s survival are quite high in the trust vote. However, he adds that it will be able to scrape through only by a very narrow margin. “The planet Jupiter is favourably placed in Manmohan Singh’s horoscope. This will protect him against the Saturn and Mars combination, that is in the 10th cuspal point from his ascendant, because of which he is facing this situation,” he says. In fact, according to Sivagurunathan, the Prime Minister will be able to complete his full term, after the trust vote – a prediction which is not shared fully by Satish Sharma, national vice-president of the Indian Council of Astrological Sciences. According to Sharma, Manmohan Singh's position is secure only till September. While he agrees that the Prime Minister’s birth chart, when seen in conjunction with the country's horoscope indicate that there is no danger of the government toppling over today, there is every possibility of it happening after September. “Currently, the planet Jupiter is strong in Manmohan Singh’s horoscope. In addition, Saturn, which is in Leo, is protecting the 10th house in the country’s chart, which indicates that the government’s prestige would be saved. However, this position will not continue after September and there is every possibility that the
government would not be able to complete its full term and elections will have to be preponed,” he says. Delhi based astrologer Naveen Khanna, doesn’t believe that this will happen, although he says that the next 45 days are crucial for the government. “In determining the fate of the government, the country’s horoscope is important, since it reflects the destinies of a billion people. “The natal position of the sun and ketu in India’s chart hints at the possibility of a mysterious development occurring during voting today, like last minute switching of loyalties etc. But, in spite of that, there is a 70% chance of the government pulling through and surviving thereafter,” he says. Finally, Sharma adds another prediction which might make Singh breathe a little more easier, “One of the important political parties may withdraw from voting today and the benefit of this would go to the government.” While the stargazers have given their verdict, how the tide turns will finally decide whether the Prime Minister thanks his stars or sees them spinning over his head. In any case, the answer is only a few hours away.
NDA demands one more day, Speaker says no
Bhaskar Roy | TNN
New Delhi: The two-day special session of the Lok Sabha that got under way on Monday to enable the government to seek a trust vote could have been extended by another day if the Opposition NDA had its way. At a meeting of the group leaders in the House convened by Speaker Somnath Chatterjee an hour before the debate opened, some NDA representatives demanded that the session be stretched by a day to give more time to the parties to discuss different aspects of the nuclear agreement in detail. They pointed out that 12 hours spread over two days was not enough to allow the entire political spectrum to have
its say on the issue. The Speaker, however, turned down the proposal pointing out that at this stage, it wasn’t possible to alter the schedule. In an unusually packed House, the attendance was impressive — more than 90%. Out of the effective House strength of 542, 466 members signed the register. That, of course, excluded the ministers who are not required to sign. Some of the ailing members who did not come on the opening day are expected to turn up to vote on Tuesday. Among them are former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee and his BJP colleague Dharmendra. According to the arrangement made, Congress, being the single largest party, has been allocated a little over three hours. The main Opposition BJP gets a little less than three hours. The CPM has been given 52 minutes. As per the convention, it has been left to the individual parties to decide how many speakers they would field within the allocated time. On the first day, a dozen-odd members spoke from different sides. Among them were PM Manmohan Singh, Leader of Opposition L K Advani, House leader Pranab Mukherjee, SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav and MoS for external affairs, Anand Sharma.
BJP leaders Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar outside the House
shooting from the lip
The UPA, Congress, Sonia Gandhi and the PM don’t believe in coalition dharma. I’ve never seen a session like this where we will discuss whether a minority government should be there L K Advani | BJP
Pandit Nehru died in 1964 and the NPT came into force in 1970. (On Advani’s remark that there was a shift from the strong opposition that Nehru had for the NPT) Pranab Mukherjee | CONGRESS
According to the govt, the Common Minimum Programme can go to hell. All it wants to do now is to implement the Uncommon Maximum Programme... We’ve to save ourselves from the deal Mohd Salim | CPM
The deal is open and based on equality and won’t be influenced by any country. There’s no mention either in the IAEA (safeguards text) or 123 Agreement that India can’t do nuclear test Anand Sharma | CONGRESS
Cost of N-energy would be Rs 17 (per unit). Who’s going to pay? The government has failed on all fronts... Who’s happy to live in a well of discrimination (on the US sanction after Pokhran test)? Bhartruhari Mahtab | BJD
The Left wanted the UPA government to be a govt of consensus, not of unilateralism. I oppose the trust motion with a heavy heart... Elections are knocking on the doors Gurudas Dasgupta | CPI
East India Company ruled India for 300 years. If the deal is signed, India will be ‘gulam’ for another 600 years... The deal will not carry India towards light, but towards darkness Shahnawaz Hussain | BJP
I would request all the MPs to conduct themselves in a dignified manner. There is a proper way to have discussions (When SP and BSP MPs almost came to blows over Ram Gopal Yadav’s remarks) Somnath Chatterjee | SPEAKER
Pak behind Kabul blast: Menon
Unusually Tough Words To Visitor Could Peril Future Of Composite Dialogue
Indrani Bagchi | TNN
New Delhi: India on Monday risked the future of the composite dialogue with Pakistan by directly accusing it of causing the suicide blast in the embassy in Kabul. Taking an unusually tough line against Pakistan, foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon told journalists after launching the fifth round of composite dialogue with his Pakistani counterpart, Salman Bashir, “All our information in the ongoing investigation points to elements in Pakistan being behind the blast.” Menon’s unusually strong statements come days after national security adviser M K Narayanan revealed that Pakistan’s ISI was suspected as teaming up with the Taliban to activate the blast. The fact that Menon chose the foreign secretaries’ dialogue to say this is significant. Bashir said the NSA’s comments had caused “disquiet in Pakistan. It is imperative to refrain from the blame game. Pakistan was among the first to condemn the attack. I asked India to provide intelligence or evidence.” Menon said the meeting was important because the “composite dialogue was under stress”. Recent incidents, he said, had “vitiated” the atmosphere. India has not confirmed whether there will be any meeting between Pakistan PM Yousaf Gillani and PM Manmohan Singh in Colombo during SAARC, neither has it announced any dates for the antiterror meet, which is now virtually defunct. Kabul drove the final nail on the joint anti-terror mechanism coffin. Menon said there were three pillars to the improved relations with Pakistan— absence of violence, addressing all outstanding issues and creating a cooperative atmosphere. On all three counts, the relationship now comes up short. He listed these as the ceasefire violations, increased infiltration and, interestingly, “incitement of violence within the Indian state of J&K”. Menon said there had been a lot of hope pinned on the new government in Islamabad, but things look very different after the recent incidents. For his part, the
Pakistan foreign secretary said, “I wouldn’t characterize the dialogue in this manner. It is very much on track and has tremendous potential. I thought we had built sufficient understanding to address concerns meaningfully.” The ceasefire violations by Pakistan have serious implications. If India decides to retaliate, Pakistan will have huge problems of manning two borders simultaneously. The ceasefire with India has given Pakistan the space to deploy more troops on its western and northern flanks. That space would shrink. Clearly, a lot of water has flowed in Indo-Pakistan relations recently, for the UPA government to take such a tough stand against Pakistan. This was a government that started the joint anti-terror mechanism with Pakistan based on the premise that the western neighbour too was a victim of terrorism. After the Mumbai blasts, India has been careful from even blaming Pakistan for the subsequent terror attacks, particularly Jaipur. It was in September 2006 that Menon told journalists, “After all, the Pakistan government has suffered from terrorism. You have seen attacks on Pakistan civilians, on Pakistani leaders by terrorists. You have seen the same thing in India.”
COLD COMFORT? Foreign secretary Shiv Shankar Menon with his Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir in New Delhi on Monday
WAITING WITH BATED BREATH
Three PMs survived floor test
Vajpayee Holds A Unique Record Of Having Faced The Maximum — Three
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
New Delhi: Some trust votes have gone right to the wire. Ask former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and he will tell you. Vajpayee, the veteran BJP leader, who holds the record of moving the maximum trust motions—1996, 1998 and 1999—witnessed the narrowest defeat the last time. His government lost by a solitary vote—269 to 270. On the other hand, some trust votes have had wide margins. While some PMs won or lost it comprehensively, others didn’t have the heart to face it and resigned even before the ballot. Of the eight trust votes in the nearly three decades since 1979, only three PMs survived, and five others either lost the vote or had to resign before
the ballot. Manmohan Singh on Monday became the sixth prime minister since 1979 to face a trust vote in Parliament. The no-confidence motion was moved for the first time way back in 1979. The then PM Charan Singh never faced the House and resigned. A decade later, VP Singh became the PM in December 1989. He won the motion that time but lost another in November 1990, beaten 142-to-346. Chandra Shekhar, who succeeded Singh, won a trust motion in 1990 but resigned five months later after the Congress withdrew support to his government. PM P V Narasimha Rao then won the confidence vote in July 1991—265 to 251—and his government went on to last the full five-year term. In June 1996, H D Deve Gowda, as the head of the United Front government, won a trust motion but lost it 10 months later when Congress again withdrew support to his government. I K Gujral won the vote of confidence in April 1997 as PM of the United Front government but resigned seven months later after losing majority support. In 1996, Vajpayee, heading the NDA government, resigned on the floor of the House before the confidence motion could be put to vote, admitting he did not have the numbers in his favour. Manmohan Singh will be the first prime minister who will not vote on a trust motion since he is not a member of the Lok Sabha. It is also the first time since 1989 when a PM will be seeking a trust vote after four years in office. Six PMs starting from V P Singh had faced a trust vote within the first two years in office.
Jailbirds spice up a humdrum day
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
New Delhi: It was a cosy domestic scene. A husband and wife reunited after a longish separation exchanging a few notes. The wife animated, the man indulgent. They accepted the odd greeting in passing but seemed quite alone in a noisy crowd of 450-odd people. The trust vote was a bit of break for RJD’s jailed MP Rajesh Ranjan or “Pappu” Yadav, who seemed to be enjoying his brief spell of freedom in Lok Sabha on
Monday. Shipped in from AIIMS where he has been ensconsed for “medical” reasons, Pappu looked in robust health. It could even be said jail has suited him. As he chatted with wife Ranjeeta Ranjan, an LJP MP, Pappu made good use of the little services available in the House, a glass of water or a note to scribble on. Apart from a sense of relief of being in the open, it was entirely possible that a recent visit by SP MP Amar Singh had boosted the spirits of the two-some. After all, the SP leader said Pappu had been in jail too long. If there was a vote involved, it was surely incidental. Pappu wasn’t the only jailbird in Lok Sabha. Another Bihar MP, Mohammed Shahabuddin, was in the House as well. He wasn’t looking as prosperous as Pappu, but “Shahabu” didn’t appear to be doing too badly either. He sat quietly taking in the proceedings, perhaps his first “outing” to Delhi since he found himself in jail in Siwan when RJD lost power in Bihar. More jailbirds are expected to turn up on Tuesday, but it was apparent that not many MPs were prepared to socialise with their “tainted” brethren. RJD MP Devendra Yadav briefly squeezed Pappu’s arm, but that was all. The debate did not rise to any heights and there were a few shouting matches, but no gripping clash of words. But the animosities did run deep. Though she did not, as is usual, react to what BJP leader L K Advani was saying, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s body language, gestures and asides to Sharad Pawar and Pranab Mukherjee were enough to indicate her disdain. “That is what we are doing”, she seemed to say when Advani asked whether the government had made any effort to generate a concensus on the Indo-US nuclear deal. There were a few who took the debate, for all its mediocrity, seriously enough. Industrialist Rahul Bajaj remained seated in the Rajya Sabha gallery. The interest of others like NCP’s Supriya Sule and DMK’s Kanimozhi flagged after an hour or so. Some veterans like SP’s Mohan Singh, stuck it out in the House, but they could be described as parliamentary addicts—not many MPs can summon up similar devotion to duty. The flashes of anger surfaced every now and again, but were more for effect than anything else. Except for an ugly moment when BSP’s Akbar Ahmed “Dumpy” rushed to the well, and forced an adjournment, proceedings did not spin out of hand. Even in Dumpy’s case, it was interesting to see Akhilesh Yadav, son of SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, reach in front to squeeze the BSP MP’s shoulders in a placatory gesture. As has been the case earlier, an understanding of the nuclear deal was fairly limited. Some MPs like BSP’s Brajesh Pathak said as much, pointing out he had overheard a member claiming the deal would result in “two tonnes of electricity”. On an earlier occasion, a Shiv Sena MP’s repeated references to “babaji” mystified the House till it became apparent that he was talking of Dr Homi Bhabha.
(From left) Atiq Ahmed, Pappu Yadav and Mohd Shahabuddin arrive in Parliament on Monday
BJP’s one-vote defeat in 1999 narrowest in history
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
New Delhi: It has got to be the most famous no-confidence motion in Indian Parliament. No government before had lost its majority by one vote and it appears unlikely this can happen again. But the Vajpayee government did lose the day on April 17, 1999, only to dramatically return to power a few months later. But that is another story. The morning began with BSP promising then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee that its MPs would support the government. It was around 10.45 am. A short while later, MPs began to file into the House. The tension was palpable. There was an electric undercurrent as government managers anxiously trawled the aisles, eyes darting from one side to another. The House was soon called to order. It was time for BSP leader Mayawati to speak. She rose and said she would be opposing the government. A babble broke out as BSP MPs Arif Khan and Akbar Ahmed applauded and the numbers began to go against the government. The final honours were done by Saifuddin Soz who defied his party, the National Conference, to vote against the government and Orissa CM Giridhar Gamang also pressing the no button. Despite having been CM for a couple of months, Gamang was yet to resign from the Lok Sabha and used his dubious privilege to vote against. Gamang has been somewhat shy to take credit for his act but Soz sees himself as a cause celebre in having brought down a “communal” government. There were other significant aspects to the dramatic vote. The government’s chief troubleshooter Pramod Mahajan had tried hard to chase down every vote, but the nature of the highly polarised House made it difficult to scrape the numbers. The mood in the Prime Minister’s office in Parliament in the aftermath of the defeat was predictably glum. Some BJP supporters tried to collar Mahajan and accuse him of letting down the party. When the one vote difference did show up on the Lok Sabha’s screens that afternoon, the House was briefly stunned into silence before the Opposition’s whoops of delight. In the PM’s seat, Vajpayee took one look at the results and raised his hand to his forehead in mock salute. There was no denying the digital numbers flashing
overhead. But his effort to stay stoic gave away when late Vijayaraje Scindhia, mother of Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje, broke down in the PM’s office in the Parliament building. Even as Vajpayee comforted her, he had trouble staying calm himself.
Parliament debates the fate of the government
Switch to presidential system
The recent phase of political instability at the Centre raises fundamental questions about our parliamentary democracy. Has the time come to think beyond the Westminster model that India has followed since independence? The experience of coalition governments in the recent past is a clear indication that India should seriously consider a presidential system of government.
If electoral trends since 1989 are any indication, the era of single-party governments is over. Coalitions — they could even be a post-election arrangement of ideologically disparate parties as in the case of the UPA-Left coalition — are unlikely to provide stable governance. The Westminster model evolved in a particular context and history. The British experience is hardly good enough to be seen as a universal model. The presidential model, as in countries like the US, evolved later. The Indian Constitution, which has borrowed a lot from the American experience with democracy, conceives of India as a union of states. However, the Westminster model subverts this idea in practice. Too much of power is concentrated in a weak Centre. The decline of national parties has helped smaller parties with limited agendas — regional, ethnic and religious — to dictate the terms of governance. Such a government can hardly claim to be representative of all of India. The constraints of parliamentary democracy are such that the prime minister is not always a leader with a pan-Indian appeal. He is elected by legislators of a party or is the compromise choice of a post-poll political coalition. He may not even be a Lok Sabha MP, as has sometimes been the case. A strong Centre with a president and states with more federal powers is the way forward for India. A presidential system will ensure that the head of the nation is elected directly by the people with a mandate for a fixed term. Of course, he will be accountable to both Houses of Parliament during his term. This would ensure stability in government and prevent horse-trading in politics.
Parliament serves us well
In the run-up to the trust vote in Parliament, many accusations of immoral conduct have been thrown around, including those of horse-trading. Several commentators have seized this opportunity to wax eloquent about the relative merits of the presidential system and advocated that India switch from its current Westminsterstyle parliamentary democracy to an American-influenced presidential form. However, they ignore basic Indian realities that make the parliamentary system the only option for governance in this country. Think of all the pitfalls that could come out of switching to a presidential system. We would be concentrating all that power in the hands of one person. Sure, we’d get stability, but at what price? Many emerging societies have tried presidential forms of government, and given up democracy in the bargain. Do we really want to exchange an admittedly chaotic but functioning system for one that may give us a dictator? Yes, the dictates of coalition politics mean that governments are more vulnerable in a parliamentary system. The single largest party may not be able to form the government at the Centre without support from smaller parties, who might then hold the government hostage to their demands. But the answer to this is to make the functioning of the Parliament more transparent. We don’t need to take the drastic step of switching our form of government to weed out corruption from the system. In a country as large and diverse as India, it is imperative that various minority interests are represented in the decision-making process. The smaller parties that enter into coalition with one of the two large, so-called national parties represent the interests of many sections of society that would otherwise be on the margins. There is little chance of all these people getting their voices heard in a system that will be dominated by one person. A parliamentary system is necessary for the interests of
all Indians to be represented.
The Gulf boom goes bust
High Inflation Pops The Excess & Success Bubble, Driving Immigrant Workers Away
Cairo: Just as Persian Gulf cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi were becoming synonymous with excess and success, the Gulf boom is in danger of going bust. Instead of conjuring images of towering skyscrapers and indoor ski slopes, they are struggling with soaring inflation rates. Indeed, the Gulf region may want to position itself at the centre of global capitalism, but it will first have to contend with the impact that skyrocketing energy costs and a cooling global economy are having on the local economy. High inflation is causing concern among policymakers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a regional organization that includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, and the UAE. In June, inflation in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, hit a 19-year high of 20.2%. Saudi Arabia also saw a 30-year inflation high of 9% in May. To make matters worse, five of the six GCC members, peg their currencies to the US dollar. As its values drops, their inflationary woes grow, and the sustainability of economic growth in the Gulf is brought into question. Previously, the prosperity of Gulf states such as Bahrain and Qatar came from the soaring price of oil. But now, rising oil prices are spurring further inflation. According to Rasheed Mohamed Al Maraj, the chairman of the Central Bank of Bahrain, 50% of the world’s oil reserves can be found in the GCC countries. Over the last 12 months, the price of oil has risen dramatically. As a result, Gulf-region economies have been growing at a rate of 5 to 7% a year for the last several years. But as Al Maraj explains, this price hike is exacerbating the region’s inflation woes. “[The price of oil] creates pressure on the economy and is bound to create inflation,” he says. To combat possible food shortages, some states are looking abroad to lease large tracts of farmland that are more fertile and less expensive to maintain than land in the Gulf region. The worst affected are noncitizen labourers, who rely on public services to survive. “In the Gulf, part of what creates this pressure is the huge influx of manpower to service our countries,” says Al Maraj. He adds that the demand for public assistance is growing faster than the government can dole it out. For some migrant workers, inflationary pressure is less acute because the companies that hire them pay for key items like food and transportation. But inflation remains a significant problem for those whose families back home demand more remittances to meet rising prices. “Our salaries were low to begin with,” says A Sridhar, an Indian national who works as a waiter in Abhu Dhabi, and earns 500 dirhams each month. “I’m sending all my money back home so that my family can afford food… I used to send 300 to 400 dirhams home and keep the rest for transport and medicine.” In the face of such pressures, Gulf states scramble to address the downside of rising oil profits. “We have to be careful how we think about growth,” says Khalid
Abdulla-Janahi, the chairman of Bahrain’s Ithmaar Bank. “This is about people, and the majority are suffering.” CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
BALANCING ACT: Migrant workers at a construction site in Dubai. The high inflation in GCC states has significantly slashed the remittances labourers send back home
Home states’ success lures back labourers
Dubai: The UAE construction industry is facing an acute shortage of construction workforce, as Indian workers prefer to stay home as a result of economic boom and rising salaries, according to a latest report. The Gulf region, struggling with soaring inflation rates, may want to position itself at the centre of global capitalism, but it will first have to contend an impoverished migrant labour force. Nearly 43% of all foreign workers in the UAE are Indians and a number of them are in the construction industry. Lately, Asian nations have seen economic growth, improved career opportunities and higher wages. According to Hewitt Associates, salaries in India in 2007 were expected to grow at 14%, with a similar rise in 2006. The UAE, in comparison, saw a rise of 10.7% in 2007, a marginal rise from 10.3% in 2006. Based on the estimates of MEED magazine, in 2005 an Indian earning Rs 3,0005,000 in the Gulf could earn twice as much as he could at home by signing up to a contract in the Gulf cooperation council. In 2008, he could earn Rs 10,000 a month in India, while wages in the Gulf are the same, thus reducing the incentive to work overseas. PTI
Confident, Manmohan led UPA says it has the numbers
Is the crisis of confidence over for Congress led government? Confident UPA says they have more than the requisite numbers to
back its claim to stay in power. On today's agenda in Parliament is Rahul Gandhi's address and the final trust vote at about 6 in this evening
New Delhi: Visibly more relaxed than all of last week, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) asserted that it had the numbers to clear the trust vote. "The government is going to sail through the trust vote. Wait and see," said at least two cabinet ministers.
Four BJP MPs from Karnataka — Manorama Madhvaraj, Basvana Goud Patil, HT Sangliana and Manjunath Kannur — have reportedly pledged support to help the government clear the vote, top sources in government said.
They also claimed that three Shiv Sena MPs and three from the Akali Dal had also promised to vote for the government. Of them, one, the Shiv Sena MP from Parbhani, had pledged his support to the UPA on Monday.
Although the Congress claimed it had more than 277 MPs in a house of 545, the effective strength of those present and voting is unlikely to cross 540. Of them, 15 MPs could abstain leading to a halfway mark of 263. The UPA is, thus, calculating it will have 14 more MPs than needed.
Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Mizo National Front MP Vanlalzawma today said they would abstain from voting during the confidence motion in Parliament tomorrow, reports PTI.
But there were other reasons for the government's confidence. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and putative Prime Minister LK Advani clearly said that his party did not want to destabilise the government, only defeat it.
"Whether elections are announced tomorrow or six months later, it really doesn't matter. The point is that the government is in the Intensive Care unit (ICU)," said LK Advani.
BJP MPs interpreted this to mean that the party was not ready to pull the rug from under
the government's feet just yet for fear that the biggest beneficiary of this would be Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati. Top BJP leaders confessed they wanted to do nothing that would hasten the exit of disgruntled MPs from their party to the Mayawati fold.
Although the Left, which withdrew support to the government last month, was not as charitably disposed towards the government as the BJP — opening speaker Mohammad Saleem's speech was trenchant on the Congress for the trail of broken promises it had left behind in the four years of its association with the Left parties — the attack was reserved for the prime minister.
Not once was Congress President Sonia Gandhi's name mentioned by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the biggest of the Left parties in Parliament, suggesting it could revive the relationship later provided Manmohan Singh was not in the picture.
The Congress on its part repeatedly referred to the role played by the four Left parties in 1977 and 1988 (when they shared a platform with the BJP), asking them not to repeat the same mistake. The prime minister referred with evident respect to two CPI M stalwarts, Jyoti Basu and Harkishan Singh Surjeet, suggesting they could be the model for younger leaders.
Advani validates deal
In his speech Advani was critical of the Congress but not of the United States. He said he would have been happy to do a nuclear deal with the US but not one that made India "subservient".
But BJP MPs said his speech lacked bite. The confidence vote ends tomorrow with the prime minister's reply. Rahul Gandhi and P Chidambaram will be fielded by the Congress today.
AROUND THE WORLD
‘Dark Knight’ sets record with $155.34m opening
The Dark Knight took in a record $155.34 million in its first weekend, topping the previous best of $151.1 million for Spider-Man 3 in May 2007 and pacing Hollywood to its biggest weekend ever, according to studio estimates on Sunday. “We knew it would be big, but we never expected to dominate the marketplace like we did,” said Dan Fellman, head of distribution for Warner Bros. The movie should shoot past the $200 million mark by the end of the week, he said.
Doherty’s home burgled:
Singer Pete Doherty has been left devastated after thieves raided his residence. The rocker was touring Spain with his band Babyshambles when his home in Wiltshire, England was ransacked. Among the items stolen were a $2,000 guitar and three paintings Doherty created with his own blood. Doherty was jailed for six months in 2003 for burgling the flat of his former Libertines bandmate Carl Barat.
Connery leaves son out of will:
Actor Sean Connery has refused to include his son Jason in his will as he wants him to learn to provide for himself, according to the star’s ex-wife. Diane Cilento, who was married to Connery for 11 years before they divorced in 1973, alleges Connery got angry with his son, who now works as an actor and director, when he threatened to disown the family name.
Madge, A-Rod in sex-tape scandal:
A cameraman claims that he has in his possession a sex tape of pop icon Madonna and baseball star A-Rod. He is willing to sell the tape to the highest bidder, with the selling price starting at a whopping £1 million. The footage, he claims, was shot with a hidden camera in an apartment Madge and Rodriguez used for clandestine trysts in the afternoon. But legal experts say that the plan could backfire for the man himself, for he could end up facing prosecution for voyeurism and burglary, reported the Daily Star.
Parrot alerts family to blaze:
A British homeowner plans to reward his pet parrot after it saved them from a fire by frantically squawking to wake them up, a report said on Monday. Bob, an African grey, may even get a new mate after raising the alarm as the blaze took hold early Sunday morning. The blaze broke out in the kitchen, but as it spread into the lounge, Bob’s squawking became increasingly desperate, waking up the entire family.
100-year-old lobster found:
A giant lobster that has been caught off the British coast could be 100 years old, according to experts. At 5.8 kilogram, it was so heavy that it broke the winch on the fishing boat of two fishermen. The male lobster was caught while the men fished between Bigbury Bay and Hope Cove in Devon. The huge creature is the largest of its
kind to be caught in British waters in nearly 80 years.
Barton doesn’t like Hollywood lifestyle:
Actress Mischa Barton, who owes her fame to Hollywood, does not want to live the showbiz lifestyle. The actress has said she makes a deliberate effort to escape Tinseltown circles and does not want to be called a party girl. “I try to avoid getting too embedded in the Hollywood lifestyle and I have my family and my life outside of work,” said Barton to a China daily.
JOINED AT THE HIP: Shakira (right) and Carlos Vives perform at a concert for peace in Colombia on Sunday
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