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Indias government preparing for confidence vote
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    NEW DELHI — What does it take to secure the vote of an Indian lawmaker these days? Six million dollars, says a top politician. And that’s not all that’s being offered.
    Want an airport named after your father? Done. Need to get out of the slammer for a few days? No trouble. Want a political rival investigated? We’ll think about it.
    India’s government is facing a confidence vote Tuesday over its decision to push ahead with the U.S.-India nuclear energy deal. The so-called trust vote is looking tighter than expected, leaving India’s leaders to furiously cut deals and find new allies among old enemies.
    But the action that has so consumed India’s political elite in recent days is doing little to inspire confidence among many in India, which faces rising inflation and slowing economic growth after a nearly decade-long boom.
    Instead, the theater of it all is casting a harsh spotlight on the fractious politics of a country where political expediency increasingly appears to trump ideology.
    ‘‘This is a trust vote where you can’t trust anybody,’’ said Suhel Seth, a New Delhi advertising executive with ties to India’s two big parties and many of its smaller ones. ‘‘Every day politics looks like it is hitting its lowest point. And then the next day it goes lower.’’
    Further dismaying to many in India is the likely result of the vote: either a weak government in power until its term ends in May or a powerless caretaker administration. Neither would likely be able to take strong steps to combat rising prices, and ‘‘both choices are equally miserable’’ Seth said.
    Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose Congress Party leads the governing coalition, was forced to call the confidence vote after his communist political allies pulled their support to protest the nuclear deal, which they fear will draw New Delhi closer to Washington.
    Singh has argued that India, which imports 75 percent of its oil, needs the deal to power its energy hungry economy.
    Under the pact, India would open its civilian reactors to international inspections in exchange for nuclear fuel and technology from the United States. Washington has long banned nuclear trade with India, which has refused to sign international nonproliferation accords and has tested atomic weapons.
    As the communists were withdrawing their support, the Congress party cut a deal with the regional Samajwadi Party, a one-time enemy. But its coalition is still short of an absolute majority in the 543-seat lower house of Parliament.
    So on Tuesday it will face the communists and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which is also vowing to take down the government over the nuclear deal, never mind that it pursued policies very similar to the ones that led to the pact when it was in power from 1998-2004.
    If the government loses, the nuclear pact will likely be finished and there will be early elections, probably in October or November.
    With the economy weakening and dissatisfaction spreading among ordinary Indians, Singh is as desperate to avoid an election as the opposition is eager to have one.
    So with such a close vote — both sides have each lined up around 260 lawmakers, a dozen shy of what they need to win — no deal appears too outlandish in an atmosphere that is short on ideology and long on patronage.
    Communist party leader Ardhendu Bhushan Bardhan said this week that Congress was buying votes for about $6 million each.
    While he produced no evidence, Indian lawmakers have repeatedly in recent years been caught taking bribes to switch sides.
    And in political circles, many people say privately that the price for the current vote was likely much higher than Bardhan’s estimate — and that both sides were spreading the money around. But apart from Bardhan, no one in India’s clubby elite was willing to publicly accuse either side of offering bribes.
    The government, meanwhile, announced Thursday that it was naming the airport in the northern city of Lucknow after former Prime Minister Charan Singh, whose son Ajit heads a small political party with three sitting lawmakers.
    India’s Central Bureau of Investigation — its FBI — recently announced it might investigate corruption allegations against the Samajwadi Party’s main rival, Mayawati, the single-named chief minister of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
    A handful of jailed Congress lawmakers — including one serving a life sentence for murder — have also secured bail so they can vote. The move is legal, but was harshly criticized by the Communist Party of India, which said ‘‘there is a question of political morality involved.’’
    The communists are clearly bitter after being spurned by the government over the nuclear deal. Now, instead of supporting the often left-of-center Congress — a comfortable if not always friendly arrangement — they find themselves on the same side as the BJP, a party with roots in India’s right-wing Hindu nationalist movement.
    Some communists are having none of it, and Parliament Speaker Somnath Chatterjee was reportedly considering resigning his seat and leaving the party after the vote.

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