The government had a smooth sailing in the Rajya Sabha when it voted on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, with the final tally reading 123 to 109.
That was expected after Mayawati made her intention to vote with the government clear yesterday. But these are not numbers that Congress party strategists could really be happy about in private, despite all the chirpy sound bytes given to TV channels.
Reason: the 14-vote gap between victory and defeat showed that if the 15-member Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had even abstained, the government would have lost by one vote. In short, it is now apparent to everyone that it was Mayawati who saved the government the blushes today. The Samajwadi Party walked out, as it did in the Lok Sabha. But Mayawati's smart moves made Mulayam Singh's manoeuvres irrelevant.
Even though the vote was won, the UPA government now knows that it is now beholden to Mayawati, and in all future votes she will have to be on board.
More than any one else, the former three-time Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister will be hugely conscious of her new-found position as key arbiter in the future of the UPA. History tells us that she is not one to fail to collect her bills, or one to ignore slights — as Sushma Swaraj found out to her discomfiture.
The new Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath should be patting himself on his back. His did a great job in terms of floor management, both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, but his job is not going to become any easier going forward. He knows that every time he needs Mayawati, he will have to do a lot of coaxing and cajoling. He will also have to do a fine balancing act with her arch rival Mulayam Singh Yadav.
In the Rajya Sabha, Mayawati turned the tables on the BJP by claiming that it was the NDA which launched false cases against her, but having done this she is likely to expect help from the UPA on this front in future. But more than any help with the CBI, she is likely to ask for UPA help to consolidate her position in Uttar Pradesh. But the Samajwadi Party will be watching her moves like a hawk - and the government cannot completely ignore this party either.
After the vote, BJP leader Prakash Javdekar called it a technical victory for the government enabled by the manipulation of people, but Kamal Nath said it was a defeat for the BJP's political game.
The Congress is happy, but the BJP is not sulking either. Happiest perhaps would be Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who, while bringing the FDI move, had said that "if we have to go down we should go down fighting.” He was seen smiling repeatedly today - a rare occurrence since he largely stays impassive in the house.
The opposition should be happy that it managed to secure 109 votes in the upper house even after Mayawati's performance yesterday. The BJP-AIADMK combo moved the resolution on FDI in the Rajya Sabha, but the party will have to see if this relationship can be built on for the future.
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