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Jul 23, 2008 at 12:47am IST

SINGH IS KING: UPA WINS TRUST VOTE

New Delhi: On a tumultuous day for Indian politics, speeches good and bad, drama over cash bribes for votes, the UPA Government won the vote of confidence in Parliament. The Government got 275 votes in favour and 256 against and abstentions were two. Total of 487 members participated in the trust vote.

In a House with an effective strength of 541, it was not immediately clear how many abstained. The results were announced after nearly an hour when officials corrected the

initial figures, which showed 253 votes in favour of the motion, 232 against and two abstentions.

In the din caused by BJP members demanding Prime Minister's resignation and shouting down his speech, Singh laid his reply to the debate on the table of the House.

As Opposition members pressed for a division, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee ordered voting by electronic voting machine.

Even before the final result was announced, ruling alliance members went to the Prime Minister and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi to greet them on the victory in the confidence motion, the first in over four years of this Government.

The Prime Minister sought the confidence of the House after the Left parties, which provided outside support since May 2004, withdrew it on the issue of Government operationalising the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal by approaching the IAEA.

Ten MPs did not record their vote in the house of 531. Seven BJP MPs, two from the Telugu Desam Party and one from the Biju Janata Dal voted for the Government motion.

"The ayes have it, the ayes have it," Chatterjee announced, bringing smiles on the face of Manmohan Singh, who began receiving congratulatory messages from scores of MPs, Congress President Sonia Gandhi included. At the same time, wild celebrations erupted in the headquarters of the Congress party in the heart of New Delhi.

A beaming prime minister told reporters after the result, "India is prepared to take its rightful place in the comity of nations." The reference was to the nuclear deal, which the Government can now move forward without any hiccups.

Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi echoed the sentiment, "I believe this nuclear deal is in the interest of the nation. I am proud of the PM."

It was a dramatic turn of fortunes after a suspense-filled weekend. At one point it was felt that a divided but determined Opposition was running neck and neck with the Congress-led UPA and those who came to its rescue after the Left called off its support to the UPA over the controversial nuclear deal.

The two-day debate also ended amid hostility – which also marked much of the proceedings – with Manmohan Singh unable to give his final speech because of noisy protests, primarily by BJP MPs. They were demanding the resignation of the prime minister over the sordid display of tainted money in the Lok Sabha.

"We knew all along that we will have a decisive margin," Minister of State for Industries and Congress MP Ashwini Kumar said. "The Indo-US nuclear deal has been endorsed by this vote."

NEXT PAGE: THE KINGMAKERS

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The kingmakers

Samajwadi Party General Secretary Amar Singh, widely seen as the architect of the UPA victory, said the credit for the UPA's success should clearly go to Manmohan Singh.

Railway Minister Lalu Prasad and National Conference president Omar Abdullah were the most effective speakers on Tuesday. The former used his known wit with deadly effect particularly against the Left while the latter was at his forceful best. Another impressive speaker was Rahul Gandhi, who tried to connect his interactions with the poor in rural areas to India's need for energy security and the larger nuclear deal.

But all of them suddenly got overshadowed by three BJP MPs – Ashok Argal (Morena), Faggan Singh Kulaste (Mandla) and Mahavir Bhagora (Salumber) who suddenly walked towards the Speaker's chair and placed two brown and black leather bags on a table and pulled out thick bundles of 1,000 rupee denomination.

As millions of Indians following the television proceedings across the country watched in horror, the MPs began to flash the tight bundles of money, triggering pandemonium in the House and leading to its adjournment.

The BJP MPs, in particular Kulaste, alleged that Amar Singh and Congress leader Ahmed Patel, an aide to Sonia Gandhi, were the masterminds behind the attempt to win them over so that they stay away from Tuesday evening's confidence motion. Amar Singh and Patel angrily denied the charge.

The opposition and the UPA got into an ugly public spat, blaming one another for the sordid scenes that leaders from both sides alleged had dealt a huge blow to India's democratic credentials.

Kulaste told reporters that he and a colleague were invited to Amar Singh's house the previous night and promised Rs 9 crore each to abstain from Parliament so as to twist the numbers in the House in its favour. He said the three of them were paid Rs 1 crore as advance and were promised that the rest of the amount would follow.

The dramatic happening prompted BJP leader LK Advani and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati to demand the resignation of Manmohan Singh. He did not oblige, and in fact took an aggressive line in his final address.

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In that speech, which he could not make but which he handed over to the Speaker, Manmohan Singh took on two people: Advani and CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat.

Rebutting Advani's criticism that he was a weak Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh said sarcastically, "To fulfil his ambitions, he has made at least three attempts to topple our Government but on each occasion his astrologers have misled him... At his ripe old age, I do not expect Advani to change his thinking. But for his sake, and India's sake, I urge him at least to change his astrologers so that he gets more accurate predictions of things to come."

In the case of Karat, who spearheaded the Left's campaign against the Government, Manmohan Singh said, "Our friends in the Left Front should ponder over the company they are forced to keep because of miscalculations by their General Secretary."

He also accused the Left of putting shackles in the conduct of foreign policy. "They wanted a veto over every single step of negotiations (with the International Atomic Energy Agency) which is not acceptable. They wanted me to behave as their bonded slave."

The Prime Minister also came out strongly in support of the nuclear deal, saying it would promote energy security and end India's nuclear isolation of decades. "Our strategic autonomy," he asserted, "will never be compromised... All that we are committed to is a voluntary moratorium on further testing (of nuclear weapons)."

Like Monday, the final day of the debate on Tuesday was marred by disruptions, forcing an exasperated Speaker to adjourn the House. He said, "Parliament of India has reached the lowest position."

Vajpayee, Dharmendra cast votes from lobby

Ailing BJP patriarch Atal Bihari Vajpayee and three other indisposed party MPs on Tuesday participated in the confidence motion through a special mechanism of voting without entering the Lok Sabha.

The former Prime Minister along with Dharmendra, Mahesh Kumar Kanodia and Harishchandra Deoram Chavan cast their votes from the lobby of Parliament as their health condition did not permit them to enter the Lok Sabha.

BJP had made special request for allowing them to cast their votes from the lobby and Speaker Somnath Chatterjee allowed it.

"In view of their condition, I permit them to cast their votes from the lobby," Chatterjee announced just before the voting.

He wished Vajpayee and others a long life and early recovery from their ailments.

After the voting, the Speaker also allowed them to leave early even though the votes were still being counted through the Division method.

(With agency inputs)

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