India's MPs released from prison for key vote
Jeremy Page in Delhi
SOME will come from their hospital beds, others from prison cells, as India's MPs gather today for a no-confidence vote that will decide the fate of the coalition government and its historic nuclear deal with the US.
The vote will conclude a two-day debate in parliament and a fortnight of backroom bartering between supporters of the government and the opposition.
Last night, the two sides had about 270 votes each in the 543-seat Parliament, but the numbers were still in doubt, with some MPs considering defecting and rumours circulating that votes were being bought for large sums.
The race is so close that the opposition plans to fly in one MP who had heart surgery in Bombay last week and another who is recovering from knee surgery in Los Angeles.
The government has temporarily released six MPs who were in jail for crimes including murder and extortion, hoping at least five of them will support it. "We will prove our majority on the floor of the House," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
If the Congress Party and its allies lose, a snap election could be held as soon as November, which may bring the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) back to power. If the government wins it will procede with the 2005 nuclear pact with President Bush. It will also wait until next year before calling the election, which must take place before May.
The government says that the deal would help to ease the chronic energy shortage in India. Opponents say that it will give the US too much control over India's foreign policy and the military nuclear programme.
BJP leader LK Advani said: "We are not against nuclear energy. We are not against a very close relationship with America. But we would never like India to become party to an agreement which is unequal." (© The Times, London)