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Congress survives confidence vote as Opp crumbles

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* BSP, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal walk out of Lok Sabha before opposition-demanded vote of strength against govt

By Iftikhar Gilani

NEW DELHI: India’s Congress-led government sailed through a trial of strength in parliament on Tuesday, with smaller parties giving it a leg up to achieve a surprisingly strong victory despite a recent string of troubles.

The vote was demanded by opposition parties against an unpopular hike in fuel and fertiliser prices, which they said stoked inflation and hurt the poor, but which the government says was needed to cut the fiscal deficit.

Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati put a dent in the opposition’s side and Samajwadi Party of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Rashtriya Janata Dal of Lalu Prasad further weakened it by walking out, letting the opposition-sponsored 30 and odd cut-motions fall without causing the slightest damage to the ruling party. Ultimately, 289 members voted for the ruling party against 201 in opposition. The House on Tuesday night passed the Union Budget and the related Appropriation Bill after rejecting cut-motions and guillotining discussions on the outstanding demand for grants.

Two cut-motions by opposition leader Sushma Swaraj and CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta, seeking the rolling back of the duty hikes in petrol and diesel, were rejected in division, the first by 84 votes and the second by 88 votes. A happy prime minister sat throughout the voting process of the budget. There were other union ministers from the Rajya Sabha who too remained present throughout. Singh delayed his departure to Bhutan for the SAARC summit to wait and watch his government sail through. The ruling UPA alliance has a strength of 274 members, just two more than the half-way mark for the majority in the House, but 289 votes cast against the Left’s cut-motion showed that 21 MPs of BSP stood by promise to vote for the government.

The opposition BJP alleged that Mayawati offered support as a quid-pro-quo to the CBI agreeing to re-examine her disproportionate assets case in the Supreme Court on Friday.

The Congress was, however, quick to deny any kind of deal with her and pointing out that the BSP had been already providing an outside support to the government. BJP leader Arun Jaitley told a press conference at the Parliament House that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was looking for a “Trojan Horse” in the opposition that it ultimately found in Mayawati, as otherwise its government’s policies, scams and non-performance prevented the disintegration of the opposition. Accusing the government of keeping the Damocles’ sword of CBI hanging on heads of certain vulnerable opposition leaders, particularly those belonging to the BSP, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal, Jaitley said he could cite several instances when the head of the CBI increased or reduced pressure, depending on the need, on these leaders when a bail out of the government was necessary.