Amidst growing speculations about a mid-term election, it was left to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to publicly assert on the opening day of the Budget Session of Parliament on Monday that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) had the numbers.
“I think dealing with pressure is part of parliamentary life,” the Prime Minister told journalists, adding, “I am confident that we have all the numbers that are needed.”
Later, a senior cabinet minister, expanded on that: “We have the numbers to ensure the stability of this government; but we will have to take each Bill one at a time.”
Indeed, while the Opposition and some of the UPA allies will continue to put the government on the mat as often as they can through the session, the possibility of any of them de-stabilising the government looks unlikely, despite the fact that several Chief Ministers have united to oppose the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
Barring the Trinamool Congress, a UPA ally with 19 MPs, and the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA), no party is keen to precipitate a mid-term election. For, if the Congress fared poorly in the recent round of Assembly elections, so did the 114-member strong BJP: its numbers fell both in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, and even if it lost Uttarakhand narrowly, it only won Goa.
Similarly, the 24-member strong Left parties have no intention of de-stabilising the government: they would prefer to test their strength in next year's panchayat polls in West Bengal, let the rumblings in the Trinamool Parliamentary Party become a roar, and Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee's honeymoon to end before trying their luck at the hustings again.
Of course, the Congress-led UPA is very conscious that it needs to stay alert: on Monday, the Prime Minister was spotted at the Rajya Sabha — lingering on in the House after it had been adjourned, chatting with obscure Opposition MPs; later in the afternoon, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee invited NDA Working Chairman L.K. Advani, and the Leaders of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley in for a chat to his room in Parliament House.
Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal made it clear that the government was willing to consider all suggestions from the Opposition for subjects to be discussed in this session. In short, the government's mood is conciliatory. Indeed, the Prime Minister, who is hosting a dinner for UPA allies on Tuesday, himself told journalists, “We are willing to discuss and debate all issues on the floor of the House. I appeal to all the political parties to work together and cooperate in meeting the challenges and opportunities the country faces.”
Can there be a change in the 15 Lok Sabha itself through a re-alignment of political forces? The numbers don't suggest that: the UPA currently has 267 MPs supporting it from inside, and another 48 from outside, totalling 315. The 48 MPs include the Samajwadi Party's 22 MPs, the Bahujan Samaj Party's 21 MPs and the one member Sikkim Democratic Front. The SP, though victorious in U.P. and currently on a strong wicket, is not going to back a BJP-led government, as it would damage its credentials with the Muslims who have brought it to power. The BSP, out of power, is also unlikely to be adventurous at this moment; on Monday, it announced unconditional support for the newly-elected Congress government in Uttarakhand.
The NDA currently has 149 MPs, and even if all the unattached parties (minus the Left parties, which would never back the BJP) were to back it, it would add up to just 203, 69 short of the halfway mark, 272.
Meanwhile, the SP's Chief Minister-elect Akhilesh Yadav emphasised that while he welcomed a debate on the possibility of a non-Congress, non-BJP third front, he did not anticipate the possibility of one. Instead, he stressed: “My priority is to set U.P. on the road to prosperity.”
As for the Biju Janata Dal, whose leader and Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, has, of late, tried to unite non-Congress Chief Ministers on federal issues, its leader B. Mahtab said on Monday that the party was keen to form a “federal front” of like-minded parties.
“We are not for a Third Front or Fourth Front. We are for a federal front,” he said, adding that “a federal front recognises the view of every State and State leadership. Any party which supports the federal character of the country will be part of the front.”
But BJD sources said that while the party would like to assert the rights of the States, it knew that no coalition government at the Centre would be possible for the foreseeable future without either the Congress or BJP in it.