A day after the Trinamool Congress decided to pull the plug on UPA-II, it seems to be all-out war between the party and the Congress.
It started with Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP Kunal Ghosh's tweet in the morning asking for early polls and resignation of the Prime Minister. Later in the day, Finance Minister P Chidambaram told journalists in Delhi that TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee had refused to respond to the PM on the issue of reforms over which she decided to withdraw support.
The revert came from Kolkata within a couple of hours. Mukul Roy, still Union railway minister, whom Chidambaram claimed was kept in the loop, dismissed the claim. And, a visibly angry Banerjee said, “Congress leaders shouldn't distort the facts.” She held an impromptu press conference at the Writers Building this afternoon, using strong words against the Congress at the Centre, alleging it of spreading disinformation in the media against her party. She dismissed any suggestion that Roy was kept in the loop by the Prime Minister’s Office on either the fuel price changes or on relaxing the foreign direct investment (FDI) bar in the multibrand retail sector.
Earlier, she posted her comments on Facebook, too, saying, “Again a section of negligible channels is spreading misinformation and disinformation at the behest of certain vested interests. Always I have noticed that whenever a strong stand is taken for the cause of the common people, such section (sic) tries to malign and create confusion. It is better not to trust such rumours, gossips and planted news.”
Her revised demands today made it seem a point of no return. “I do not understand who can run a household with six LPG cylinders. Maybe they (Congress leaders) are not only dieting but not eating. They must be super human beings,” she said, making it clear the subsidy should be extended to 24 gas cylinders a year, double of what she had said yesterday.
‘No token roll back’
The condition came in the wake of a buzz that certain relaxations such as raising the subsidy cap on LPG or a partial reversal on the diesel price could be offered by the Centre. But, after today’s exchanges, a token rollback by the UPA is unlikely to bring the TMC back into its fold. “A token roll back can win Mulayam or Mayawati but not Mamata,” Mukul Roy told Business Standard. Adding, “Things have changed after last night's meeting.”
A senior member of her party later explained that the situation could have been averted if the government had responded immediately by resorting to a partial reversal of the diesel price. The situation has since led to her position hardening, he explained, demanding a total reversal, including on FDI in retail.
“Mamata is paranoid about the Left in the state. The CPI (M) has been criticising her for staging a “mock fight” against the UPA-2 government’s ‘anti-people’ policies.
“Now, if the TMC withdraws its decision to pull out from the government without nullifying FDI in retail, it would give further ammunition to the Left. This has also become an important factor in hardening her stance, explained the leader.
The Bengal Congress is also set to part ways with the TMC-led government. All Congress ministers in the state today skipped a cabinet meeting in the afternoon. State Congress leaders have said a decision to pull out ministers would be taken by the central leadership.
Yet, the fact was that even hours before yesteraday's meeting, most TMC leaders were expecting withdrawal of ministers from the Centre as a mark of protest, not an actual pullout. At the meet, Banerjee asked all MPs and state ministers to give their views. As no one volunteered to speak first, without knowing the party's supremo's view, Banerjee, of all persons, asked ex-railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to speak first -- it may be recalled that he was dismisssed from the Union council of ministers for defying her views on far rates and considered as good as having been expelled. Interestingly, Trivedi favoured a pullout and, unlike his controversial rail budget, struck a chord with Banerjee. Most of the MPs and state ministers shared the same view, with Kalyan Banerjee, M.P, being the most aggressive and the Congress' alleged ill-treatment of the TMC.
Sources present at the meeting said central ministers Sougata Roy and Sudip Bandopadhyay raised concern over the fact that losing the rail ministry could freeze the numerous rail projects in Bengal; they felt the Centre should be given more time. Here, Banerjee intervened, as she showed an unanswered SMS sent to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last Friday, when the FDI changes were announced. She told them the Congress president did not respond and, in a way, set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
Hence it was imperative that she contradicted Chidambaram's claim that the PM had attempted to speak to Banerjee but she was not available.
With a compromise formula unlikely, the TMC, which would stand to gain from an early election, is now waiting to see how the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party would react. Sudip Bandopadhyay is keeping touch with SP general secretary Kironmoy Nanda. “If there is a partial rollback, the SP will save. Otherwise, it is only BSP which can save the government. But, you can never rule out a mid-term poll,” a TMC MP noted.
There is still a day to go before the TMC ministers give their resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Party leaders rule out any “patch-up” until their demands are met but 24 hours is a long time in politics.