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Indian Parliament Begins Confidence Debate


The Indian parliament is debating a crucial confidence vote that will decide whether the Congress-led coalition government will survive. The government sought the vote after communist parties withdrew support over a civilian nuclear agreement with the United States. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the vote is expected to be close.

An optimistic Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a "V" for victory sign and said he is certain of winning, as he entered parliament Monday to seek a confidence vote.

Inside the lower house, Mr. Singh made an impassioned plea to lawmakers to back his government and its decision to finalize a civilian nuclear deal with the United States.

"I would like to assure this august house and, through this house the people of India, that every single decision, every policy initiative we have taken, was taken in the fullest confidence that we are doing so in the best interest of our people and our country," he said.

The trust vote is scheduled for Tuesday. It was called after communist allies withdrew support to the government, because of its decision to seal the nuclear accord, which would give India access to civilian nuclear technology from which it is presently barred.

The pact has also angered the main opposition, Bharatiya Janata Party. Its leader, L.K. Advani, says the party is not opposed to India getting civil nuclear technology or to friendship with the United States. But he charges that the nuclear pact makes New Delhi a "subservient partner."

"We are not at all opposed to having relationship with America. But, irrespective of how strong or how powerful the other country is, we would never like India to become party to an agreement which is unequal," he said.

After days of intense political deal-making and hard bargaining, in the Indian capital, political observers say the result is difficult to predict.

A clutch of small parties could tilt the scales, either way, and not all have revealed which they will vote. They have been wooed by both sides, as the government scrambles to stay in power and the opponents try to oust it.

There have been allegations that both sides have promised political favors, tried to poach members form the other sides and even tried to buy votes to shore up their support.

To survive, the government needs the support of half the members present and voting in the 543-member house.

The race is so tight that both sides are doing everything possible to ensure that supporters are present in parliament. Six members serving jail terms have been given permission to come out of prison for the vote. The opposition plans to fly in ailing lawmakers.

A victory for the government would mean that India goes ahead to conclude the nuclear deal with Washington. A defeat will mean the government will not move ahead with the pact and India will face early elections.


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