New Delhi: Facing the biggest political crisis in over four years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asserted Monday that he was confident of winning the trust vote as the ruling coalition and opposition clashed in parliament at the start of a two-day debate on the India-US nuclear deal.
Even as Manmohan Singh introduced a one-line motion seeking support of the Lok Sabha for his government - after entering the house flashing a V sign - the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the opposition were locked in frantic last-minute efforts to muster the majority for the crucial vote expected late onTuesday.
"I am confident of winning the trust vote," the prime minister told Times Now television channel after External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke in the house, just before recess. "Pranab's speech was excellent. Pranab presented the case in an excellent way. I don't know what the opposition can say now."
Manmohan Singh's assertion of victory was the most positive from the UPA stable after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati rallied the opposition against the nuclear deal Sunday, forcing many to believe by night that the Tuesday outcome could go any way.
Monday's two-day debate - watched by millions across the country on television - was necessitated after the four Left parties' withdrawal of support to the Manmohan Singh government reduced it to a minority.
The Congress-led UPA has been asserting since then that it still enjoys majority support in the 545-seat Lok Sabha. But in recent days that confidence has given way to cautious optimism, and Congress sources admit that the ruling coalition is hoping that many from the opposition ranks will abstain during the Tuesday vote.
A winning side will have to muster 272 MPs in its favour.
Initiating the debate, Manmohan Singh said the trust vote was "fully avoidable" because he had promised to return to parliament before making the nuclear deal operational.
"I have repeatedly assured all, including the Left parties, that I myself would come to the guidance of parliament before operationalising the nuclear deal, if we were allowed to go to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to finalise the India-specific safeguards agreement)," he said.
In a speech that aides said he himself drafted after coming to parliament around 10.30 a.m., the prime minister said he regretted that the government had to seek a trust vote at a time its attention was focussed on controlling soaring food prices.
And, in an apparent dig at Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) general secretary Prakash Karat, Manmohan Singh praised the "sagacity, wisdom and visionary leadership" of CPI-M veterans Jyoti Basu and Harkishan Singh Surjeet who he said were the architects of the 2004 decision to form a UPA-Left coalition government.
Speaking much later, External Affairs Minister Mukherjee said the nuclear deal was the passport for India to end its isolation among nuclear countries.
"It is our passport to the international community. If you have a passport only then you can apply for a visa and enter another country. This nuclear deal is like our passport. We can now apply for the visa and go to other countries," Mukherjee said, while trying to explain the benefits of signing the deal."
Earlier, L.K. Advani, the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) prime ministerial candidate and leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha, pledged to renegotiate the nuclear deal if his party came to power.
In his hour-long speech in which he covered a range of issues, including internal security and the price rise, Advani said he was neither against nuclear energy nor against a "strategic relationship" with the US. He added that the BJP had no objections to strategic ties with the US, Japan or Russia.
"We are not at all opposed (to) a relationship with America. (But) irrespective of how powerful the country, we would not like India to be a party to an agreement which is unequal," he said. He stated that the India-US nuclear deal makes India a "subservient partner".