New Delhi: Exhausted by Mamata Banerjee’s diktats that have blocked economic reform, the Congress is deciding whether to reboot the ruling UPA coalition that it leads. Ms Banerjee, unpredictable and temperamental at the best of times, has 19 Lok Sabha MPs. The Congress is increasingly confident that if she is dropped, the UPA will not collapse because Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati will provide external support to the government.
Ms Banerjee’s latest ultimatum to the government centres on an increase in passenger fares announced yesterday by her own partyman, Dinesh Trivedi, who was nominated to the Union Cabinet by her. Furious with his decision to increase fares without checking with her, Ms Banerjee who is the chief minister of Bengal has written to the Prime Minister, demanding that Mr Trivedi be dismissed. So far, Mr Trivedi has not resigned. He said today that he will oblige the minute he is asked to quit by either the Prime Minister or Ms Banerjee who he continues to refer to as “my leader.” Till then, he said, “As Railways Minister, it is my duty to get the Railways Budget passed.”
Despite his deference, sources say that Mr Trivedi has been defying his boss’ orders. She did not want him to attend parliament today; he was seen smiling in the Lok Sabha amid a furious debate over the political crisis centred on him.
Last night, Congress leaders held an emergency meeting at the Prime Minister’s house to gauge Ms Banerjee’s insistence on Mr Trivedi’s dismissal and the rollback of the increased fares he announced. Her stand has left the government wide open to attacks that it has no real power and is ruled by its allies. A rollback of fares would undermine the Prime Minister, who declared Mr Trivedi’s budget was modern and progressive; it will also prove that the UPA in its current form is unable to initiate big-ticket policies and reforms, because it does not have the numbers to over-rule the many objections of Ms Banerjee. Against the Trinamool Congress, Mulayam Singh Yadav can offer 22 MPs; Mayawati’s party, the BSP, has another 21. Both are reportedly willing to vote with the government on crucial legislation. In a clear attempt to engage with Mulayam’s SAmajwadi Party, the Congress deputed senior leaders Motilal Vohra and Pawan Kumar Bansal to attend Akhilesh Yadav’s swearing-in today as the chief minister of UP. It is young Akhilesh, ironically, who is credited with decimating the Congress’ hopes of revival in the recent UP elections.
Dr Manmohan Singh’s government has repeatedly been unable to implement policies needed to lift economic growth, which has slowed to its lowest in nearly three years. The row over railway fares follows a series of policy flip-flops. Last year, Prime Minister Singh attempted to allow foreign retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc to invest in the country’s supermarket sector, but his move was blocked by the Trinamool Congress. Earlier this month, a flip-flop over whether India would ban cotton exports plunged global markets for the commodity into uncertainty.