Unfare Mamata UPA ante

The Congress-led UPA plunged into a fresh political crisis on Wednesday with two crucial allies, the Trinamul Congress (19 MPs) and the DMK (18 MPs), arm-twisting the government. In an unprecedented move, Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh late Wednesday evening asking him to replace railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, from her party, for going against the Trinamul line. The government is likely to accept Ms Banerjee’s demand to replace the railway minister.

Mr Trivedi, presenting his maiden Railway Budget, defied the party line and went for a hike in train fares. Mr Mukul Roy is likely to replace Mr Trivedi. Mr Roy, a close associate of Ms Banerjee, briefly held additional charge of the railway ministry as MoS after Ms Banerjee quit to take over as West Bengal chief minister.
The government could be in serious trouble if Trinamul, an ally, votes against the Railway Budget. The DMK is also showing signs of going against the government. The Prime Minister, however, said his government “was stable” and that “it has the numbers”.
Trinamul MPs will stage a demonstration inside and outside Parliament on Thursday demanding a financial package for West Bengal and then meet the PM to press for a rollback. The DMK, too, is armtwisting the government over its noncommittal stand on the UN resolution on Sri Lanka.
The top UPA leadership is discussing the political crisis. Sources disclosed that with a crisis over passage of the Rail Budget staring it in the face, a section is in favour of working out a compromise with Trinamul. The government is now looking at the option of a partial rollback; this might include rolling back the hike in lower class fares and leaving the upper class fare hike untouched. A section in the Congress is also in favour of finding ways to rehabilitate Mr Trivedi, who went with the government line.
Hectic parleys are now on between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party to work out numbers in the Lok Sabha in the event of the Trinamul trying to pull the plug. If Trinamul continues to oppose the fare hike, the UPA will need the SP’s support to pass the Railway Budget. If Trinamul refuses to vote for the Railway Budget, the Congress (255 MPs) and SP (22 MPs) cross the magic figure of 272 in the House of 543.
Questions are now being raised on whether Ms Banerjee is trying to force a mid-term election. While she sent only Trinamul deputy leader Ratna De Nag to the PM’s dinner for allies Tuesday night, she dispatched a high-profile three-member team to the swearing-in of Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal as Punjab chief minister. Her team included Mukul Roy, Rachpal Singh (a minister in the Bengal Cabinet) and party MP K.D. Singh.
Mr Trivedi, who took over as railway minister on July 12 last year, could not even complete a year. Sources said he had defied his party’s line by hiking fares as he had an idea that he might be eased out by Ms Banerjee. Earlier, he had been pulled up by Ms Banerjee for trying to “establish one-on-one contact” with the Congress top leadership, including with AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
Initially support for Mr Trivedi had poured in from the Centre as the Prime Minister described it as a good budget and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee praised it for “positive developments”. He also said there has been no resignation letter from Mr Trivedi. Making it clear that Mr Trivedi had to go, the Trinamul chief, addressing a rally at Nandigram on Wednes-day, said: “We will not allow rail fares to be hiked.” Claiming she was not aware of the decision to raise the fares, she reiterated: “I assure you, we will not accept this fare hike.”

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