On March 27,1998 the nine-day old Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was facing crucial vote of confidence. Prime Minister Vajpayee himself moved the trust vote in the Lok Sabha. Heated debate took place for two days. Finally, Vajpayee led NDA government emerged victorious with a majority of 13 votes on March 28, 1998. Vajpayee could garner the support of 274 member while 261 voted against him. How was it possible for the BJP led minority government?
It was TDP Supremo Chandrababu Naidu who bailed out the Vajpayee government. Otherwise history would have taken a different turn and BJP would not have travelled this far.
BJP was uncertain of support from Telugu Desam Party. Andhra chief minister Chandrababu Naidu maintained terrible suspense till the last moment. Finally, at the last moment, few hours before the voting took palce, arrived a fax from Hyderabad. The three line fax message received by TDPP leader K Yerrannaidu clinched the issue. TDP decided to bail out Vajpayee government by voting in favor of the trust vote. Naidu’s argument was it was pro-BJP mandate and people rejected Congress. He said his party would honor the verdict of the people.
Till then floor managers of BJP were tenterhooks, keeping a close watch on every phone call the TDPP office received hoping that it was the green signal from Chandrababu Naidu. Naidu’s silence on support, and his unreachability on phone, in those non-mobile days, caused nerve-wracking tension for the BJP leadership. Floor manager Pramod Mahajan was seen constantly goading Yerrannaidu to contact Hyderabad Naidu with a request to support the government. Entire media, covering the lobbies of Parliament House, assembled at the Room No 5 ( it was TDPP office for 30 years) anxiously waiting for the TDP response that would decide the fate not only of BJP but also Prime Minister Vajpayee.
Exactly at 3 pm Delhi Naidu received a phone call and then fax message from Hyderabad Naidu. Yerrannaidu almost ran to house to read out the message of support from TDP boss. Till then the race was neck and neck. Congress was confident of voting Vajpayee out and forming the next government.
Debate was over around 7.30 PM. Speaker GMC Balayogi took the voice vote. Not satisfied with it the Opposition demanded a division. Voting took place with the help ballot papers as there was no electronic voting system in Parliament. Votes were counted. Vajpayee won the trust and Congress’ attempt to form the government had effectively been thwarted by the TDP.
On the day TDP had a strength of 12. With Balayogi becoming speaker, the effective strength was 11. Minus the 11 votes, Vajpayee would not have continued to become three-term Prime Minister. As two members were absent only 537 members participated in the voting. Two member did not turn up for the voting. Prime Minister Vajpayee won the vote of confidence by 274 to 261 votes .
What is significance is, Prime Minister Vajpayee redeemed his prophecy, he made while being voted out of office within 13 days on May 28,1996, the he would return and reclaim his position soon. Thanks to TDP, Vajpayee and his party bounced back to power exactly after 22 months.
(The author was witness to the whole drama that unfolded in the parliament all through the debate)