New Delhi: Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati had lunch at the Prime Minister's 7 Race Course Road residence on Sunday, as Dr Manmohan Singh continues to reach out to allies. He had hosted Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Mulayam Singh Yadav for dinner on Friday.
Both Ms Mayawati and Mr Yadav provide external support to Dr Singh's government at the Centre, which is in a minority in the Lok Sabha without the numbers these leaders bring. The meetings are part of the PM's effort to firm up strategy and ensure a united front to face the Opposition in the Winter Session of Parliament, which begins on November 22. Kamal Nath, who recently took over as Parliamentary Affairs Minister, was also at the lunch meet.
"It's not the first time I'm meeting PM...have come many times before. PM invited me to lunch...We are in politics, we have to see each other for lunch/dinner etc. Parliament session also going to start...but it is wrong to say I went just because of that. I have gone on many other occasions. These things keep happening...should not be linked to Parliament session," Ms Mayawati said.
The Congress-led government was left in a minority in September after Mamata Banerjee led her Trinamool Congress out of the UPA over Dr Singh's series of big-ticket economic reforms like allowing Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail and a hike in fuel prices. The Trinamool has also declared that it hopes to move a no-confidence motion against the government. Ms Banerjee says that the Prime Minister incorrectly cleared reforms, including the opening up of the retail sector to international chains like Wal-Mart, after his government had been thrust into a minority because of her exit. Ms Banerjee says the government did not have the moral authority to make those changes after it lost its majority.
The Trinamool joins a belligerent Opposition led by the BJP, which has not allowed Parliament to function on many days over the last two sessions. It has run a high-decibel campaign against the government, targeting it for what it calls as faulty policies that have burdened the aam aadmi as also for a slew of corruption cases.
The support of allies like the SP and BSP, hence, will be crucial in Parliament as the government tries to fend off attacks from the Opposition. Even though Mulayam Singh Yadav has openly opposed FDI in retail, he has made clear that he will not withdraw support to the UPA government as his priority is to check what he calls communal forces. Mayawati's support has also ensured that the government is in a comfortable place vis-a-vis numbers. With Mr Yadav's 22 MPs and Ms Mayawati's 21, the UPA has a comfortable 310. It needs 272 to have a simple majority in the 543-seat Lok Sabha.
The current effort is to bring all allies on board over key policy matters. This is especially significant as some of the Congress' allies have repeatedly said that they are not consulted in important decisions; in response to that complaint, a coordination committee was created recently.
The Prime Minister heads into the Winter Session with a firm assurance from his party, the Congress, that it backs the reforms agenda of the government. Both Congress President Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi reaffirmed the party's support for the government it leads at a massive rally in Delhi last weekend. The Prime Minister signalled that bold economic decisions would continue; he said at the Delhi rally that these reforms would eventually benefit the common man and slammed the Opposition for spreading what he called misinformation.
The Congress also held a brainstorming session on Friday on the outskirts of Delhi where Mrs Gandhi exhorted the government to explain simply to the people why the reforms were exigently needed. The meet was also much talked about as the party president, along with other senior ministers and leaders and son Rahul, shunned the ubiquitous lal batti (red beacon) cars for the more modest bus to the venue of the session in Surajkund, near Delhi.
"Photo sessions in poor people's homes or travelling in buses won't help. The government knows elections will now be in 2013 instead of 2014 and they've begun working towards that and are talking to their allies via dinner diplomacy and other such means. But these methods won't work," said Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Spokesperson, BJP.