India govt hunts for support ahead of no confidence vote

NEW DELHI, July 21, 2008 (AFP) – The Indian government was scouring for support Monday, trying to shore up its position a day before a no-confidence vote in parliament triggered by a controversial nuclear deal with Washington.

The government will collapse and early elections will be called if the coalition of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh loses on Tuesday, and experts say the vote in the 543-seat parliament is too close to call.

Singh’s allies and the opposition have been battling to woo even tiny parties with just a handful of votes, with the outcome likely to be determined by only the smallest of margins.

The race is so tight, and the stakes are so high, that the government is letting six MPs serving jail terms out to vote. Meanwhile the opposition is paying for charter flights to bring in ailing lawmakers.

“The vote will be a close thing, as the smaller parties who hold the key may not back the prime minister,” said political analyst Mahesh Rangarajan. “One should not be surprised if the government falls by a few votes.”

Singh stirred up popular anger by signing a nuclear accord with the United States which his government insists is essential to meet the energy needs of India’s fast-growing economy a