Mamata Banerjee's plan to move a no-confidence motion against the Manmohan Singh government in the winter session of Parliament is heading towards a no-show, with most of the Opposition eyeing it warily and the government strategising to block her. She has 19 MPs and to introduce the motion in the Lok Sabha, she needs 50.
The government is making sure the numbers don't add up to that for her. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath told NDTV this evening that the UPA was in touch with all key players to strengthen its defences, including ally DMK and the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party, both of who are supporting the government from outside.
One of the parties that Ms Banerjee was hoping would back her, the CPI(M), has categorically said that it will not give its support. Speaking to NDTV, CPI(M) General Secretary Prakash Karat said as much and also that the Trinamool would be unable to muster the numbers. The CPI(M) has applied for a debate-and-vote motion on the issue of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail introduced by the government, which it thinks will be more effective as a strategy in Parliament. (Read: Won't back Mamata's no-trust vote on FDI, says Karat)
Mr Nath, though, has indicated that the government might be unwilling to even accept the debate-and-vote motion, although a final decision on it will only be taken after a clear picture of support for Ms Banerjee emerges.
Another Left party, the CPI, which had initially suggested that it could support the no-trust vote, has also now reversed its position.
The other possible support for Ms Banerjee, the BJP, too has been cagey. She is understood to have spoken to Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha, on the phone to gauge the BJP's position, but there has been no public acknowledgement of this by the main opposition party.
Senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi articulated why the BJP is not excited about Mamata Banerjee's no-trust motion plan when he said, "If the numbers are not adequate and the motion fails, the government becomes safe for the next six months within which another such motion cannot be brought. If the motion is passed and the government falls, you have to think of the next course of action."
Both the NDA and the Left fear that a no-trust vote, if defeated, will also embolden the government to say that all its policies have been endorsed. They would thus prefer to debate and vote on the core issue of FDI in retail - they believe that parties like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, which provide external support to the government and even the DMK, which is part of the government, will back the PM in a no-trust vote. But since they are vocally opposed to FDI in retail, they would be forced to distance themselves in the event of a vote on that policy.
The apparent reluctance of the big Opposition parties to back Ms Banerjee's plan has given the government enough confidence to mock her efforts. "Never has a 19-member party brought a no-confidence motion. And it's even stranger that the party first announces the motion and then starts looking for support," Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tiwari said at a media briefing.
The Winter Session opens this Thursday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left for Cambodia yesterday only after consolidating his government's numbers in Parliament. His lunch with the BSP's Mayawati and dinner with the Samjawadi Party's Mulayam Singh Yadav is being seen as a stitch-a-majority-before-the-session move.
Ms Banerjee, who walked out of the government in September, says since her exit plunged it into a minority, it had no authority to push a major policy like allowing FDI in retail through an executive decision.
The government, though, has remained confident of its numbers. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma said today, "Here is a decision which is in executive domain which requires no legislative approval. In the history of Indian parliamentary democracy, an executive decision has never been dragged into Parliament motions. The government is confident of convincing the majority."
Congress spokesman Sandeep Dikshit said, "Normally executive decisions are not discussed, but if the speaker so decided, we will...We welcome a discussion under any rule."
With the Samajwadi Party's 22 MPs and the Bahujan Samaj Party's 21, the UPA government has about 300 MPs in the 545-seat Lok Sabha, comfortably over the half-way mark at 273. At yet another dinner on Friday, this time for members of the UPA, the PM reportedly managed to get the DMK to agree that the government should avoid a vote on the new policy, and should offer a debate under rule 193, where a discussion is not followed by a vote.