The buzz in Parliament House on Thursday was around the impending trial of strength between the government and the Opposition when the Finance Bill is passed, clause by clause, during the second part of the budget session.
The Opposition parties are bent on bringing a number of cut motions — with members from different parties planning to submit their separate notices — and the government has started working out the arithmetic, counting the lonely ones and twos and threes among independents and small political groups.
No imminent danger
While certainly there seems almost no imminent danger to the government, the uncomfortably slim majority that the United Progressive Alliance has minus the voluntary support it has enjoyed from the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal means that Congress managers have begun working overtime, contacting independents and others to shore up its numbers.
“Our number stands at 274, two more than the bare majority, as of today [Thursday],” said a senior Congressman on Thursday. But when the time comes for the Finance Bill, the government hopes to add another half-a-dozen MPs to its list of supporters who would be willing to vote with it even on the politically volatile subject of hike in the taxes of petroleum products that could add to the raging inflation.
There are the five MPs from the Lok Morcha that includes Jaswant Singh, former Bharatiya Janata Party leader who fell out with his parent party over his book on Jinnah. Then there is the unattached Jaya Prada, whose relations with the Samajwadi Party has reached a point of no return. There is also Kalyan Singh, who is no longer in political sync with his former party, the BJP, or the Samajwadi Party, with which he had close ties until recently.
Perhaps the biggest positive factor for the government is that it is less than a year after the last general election and no MP, certainly not from the BJP or the CPI(M), is in the mood to face another election so soon. The BJP's senior leader in the Rajya Sabha, Venkaiah Naidu, indicated as much when he said on Thursday: “It is not our intention to bring down the government.”
Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj made the point that the cut motion was a parliamentary tool that the Opposition wanted to use in favour of a “people's issue” and it was for the government to do its arithmetic and get its numbers together. Even if the government gets the numbers and the Bill is passed smoothly, the Opposition would have made its point.