Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Govt, rivals wage war of words

While Leader of the Opposition L K Advani held the prime minister singularly responsible for the political crisis, Congress leader and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee put up a passionate defence of the Indo-US nuclear deal.
An apparently confident UPA took on Opposition BJP and former allies Left parties on Monday as the countdown for the trust vote in the Lok Sabha entered a crucial phase with the ruling coalition claiming that they have the support of 276 MPs, clearly crossing the majority mark. While Leader of the Opposition L K Advani held the prime minister “singularly responsible” for the political crisis, Congress leader and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee put up a passionate defence of the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Chaired by Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, who belied all apprehensions of resigning on Monday before the introduction of the confidence motion, the debate went on smoothly barring a 15-minute adjournment in the post-lunch session following fracas between SP and BSP members.Moving a one-line motion that “this House expresses its confidence in the Council of Ministers”, the 75-year-old prime minister told a packed House that “every single decision” taken by his government in the last four years was in the “best interests of our people and our country”. PM pats Surjeet, BasuTrying to steal the show from his Left critics, Dr Singh heaped praise on veteran Marxist leaders Harkishan Singh Surjeet and Jyoti Basu for their “sagacity” and “leadership” for helping set up the coalition government.Moving the motion, he said for the past couple of decades the country was used to governments being forced to seek a vote of confidence within months of coming to power. “I regret that this session of Parliament has been convened when the attention of the government has been on the economy, particularly on the control of inflation and on implementing programmes for the welfare of our people, particularly our farmers. This exercise, I submit sir, was wholly avoidable,” he said. “I assure the House and the country that every single decision, every policy initiative we have taken was in the fullest confidence that we are doing so in the best interests of our people and our country,” the prime minister said to the thumping of desks by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi. Advani held that the nuclear deal has become an agreement between two individuals, making India “subservient” and a “junior partner”. “The UPA is like a patient in the ICU room. The first question everyone asks is whether he (patient) is going to survive or not,” he said opposing the confidence motion. Advani’s comments that Singh had opposed Pokhran II nuclear tests in 1998 drew a sharp response from the prime minister, who said he had spoken only about opposition to the sanctions that followed the explosions and how the country should be prepared to face the challenges. The BJP leader also said that if people vote the NDA back to power, they would renegotiate the deal to make it more equal and ensure that there “are no constraints on our strategic autonomy”.CPM leader Mohammad Salim accused the UPA of “outsourcing the diplomatic processes to the US” in fulfilling their loyalty to President George Bush. Countering Advani’s remarks that the UPA government has been reduced to a minority, Mukherjee said UPA’s combined strength of 237 with the Samajwadi Party’s 39 added upto 276. With the Lok Sabha having an effective strength of 541, the ruling coalition enjoyed a simple majority, he said. An emotional Mukherjee, who has been UPA’s pointsman for talks with Left parties on the nuclear deal, asked his former allies to “touch their heart” and asked, “Is this an issue (nuke deal) that you (Left) are bringing down the government?”
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