Congress ploy to corner Mamata Banerjee backfires
N Nagaraja Rao
Rail ki barkat se hi desh ki barkat hai''Manzil abhi door aur rasta jatil, kandhe milakar saath chale toh kuchh nahi mushkil, saath milkar jo hum patriyan bichhayenge, toh dekhate-dekhate sab raste guzar jayenge.
Roughly translated, the Railway Minister wanted to impress how the nation's propsperity depended on railways contribution to the nation and appealing for co-operation in reaching the goal philosophically sermonising for difficult task ahead. Immediately on presenting his budget, he started hopping from one news channel to the other and he was stealing the limelight as his predecessors did on presenting the budget. The supposed co-operation he sought is not forthcoming from his own party he represents.
The only diference this time around is he is under a party boss Mamata Banerjee whose actions are unpredictable. Came a diktat from Kolkata that she is against the fare hike and demanded a roll back or quit. This is perhaps the first time in the history of Independent India that a minister is reprimanded by his own party for hiking fares and his own party collegue and Union Minister and TMC leader Sudip Bandopadhyay discounted that the party had ever discussed the budget provisions with the Railway Minister. Came a statement that ‘they are opposing because Mamata Banerjee has taught them to protect interests of poor people’. Mamata ire is attributed to Dinesh Trivedi’s perceived closeness to the Congress Party and his recent meeting with Rahul Gandhi. Thus by interpretation the budget presented by UPA-II is anti-people and thus demand a roll back. On his part Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated the Minister for presenting the people-friendly budget and decided to remain incommunicado to let his party fire fighters to gain control to placate its allies.
For once, it's not only the Congress that's feeling Mamata Banerjee's wrath but also the Minister. The Trinamool Congress Party chief directed her ire at the Railways Minister, who is her own nominee to the union cabinet. She has rejected the nominal increase in passenger fares announced by Dinesh Trivedi. He has been asked to either withdraw the hike, or resign. The diktat is humiliating for her minister, and embarrassing for the government. The respite of indirect fire for Congress is sweetened by the fact that Mamata Banerjee's party has tripped over its own attempts to challenge the union government on another front—the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Her MPs moved amendments to the President's address – the speech delivered by the President to Parliament and also its MPs planned to sit on a dharna near the statue of Mahatma Gandhi inside Parliament House to protest against the central government against being denied the financial package that Trinamool has been asking for West Bengal. The million dollar question is will she allow her MPs to be present in the House for Pranab Mukherjee's general budget or would be busy protesting.
Mamata has faxed a letter to the Prime Minister demanding her nominee in the cabinet be replaced with Mukul Roy and sacking Dinesh Trivedi. Thus for the first time in political history a minister may not be responding to the budget that he has presented.
Trinamool Congress decided to show the Congress and its leadership their place in her scheme of things by sending a very junior and non-descript MP to attend the Prime Minister's dinner for allies at 7 Race Course Road. No minister from her party or office bearer was sent. Mamata Banerjee has also refused to part with her surplus votes to ensure the victory of one Rajya Sabha Congress MP from West Bengal saying she can win four seats from West Bengal. The Congress is likely to write to her officially asking her to give the surplus votes to them. The ever opportunist Left licking its wounds after the defeat in West Bengal and now seized the offer of its surplus votes to the Congress with Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury indicating that the Left would be only too glad to give their surplus votes to the Congress to ensure the victory of their candidate. With this manoeuvre the Left intends to score two hits with one stone. It comes closer to the Congress even as it denies Mamata an opportunity to get an extra Rajya Sabha berth. It also ensures that the ongoing friction between the Congress and the Trinamool is further enhanced and highlighted.
With the Trinamool having sent a large number of amendments to the President's speech, with the list totaling around 2,000 amendments from various political parties, the government has asked all its allies to be present in full strength in the budget session of Parliament since it apprehends that the Opposition may push for voting on a number of issues and the government should not be caught unaware or with less than adequate numbers. With the government vulnerable when it comes to voting on financial matters, the Trinamool has become a big headache for the Prime Minister and the government. The attempt is to woo both the Bahujan Samaj Party and SP, which will continue to give outside support and ensure that there is no immediate threat to the government. With Mayawati filing her nomination papers for the Rajya Sabha, Parliament is likely to become that much more colourful. (Nai Dilli mein pyaar and Lucknow mein inkaar) the slogan of the BJP stands vindicated as the contradictions polically never cease to amaze a common man (aam aadmi).
The Trinamool Congress wanted the reference to National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) in the President’s address to be deleted, while DMK wanted Patil’s speech to reflect India’s position on allegations of war crimes by the Sri Lankan Government. Normally, amendments to the President’s address are tabled by Opposition parties and passage of such an amendment considered a defeat for the Government. However, at the time of voting, a member can withdraw or not press the amendment. This time, more than 2,700 amendments to President’s speech have been submitted in both Houses. Given the unity among several non-Congress parties over the “anti-federal” nature of the NCTC, Trinamool’s amendment could pose a serious problem for the Manmohan Government. Pranab asked all the alliance partners to project a united front to counter the Opposition attack in Parliament and ensure that all the financial and legislative business were smoothly passed.
With the kind of friends it has, Congress did not need an effective Opposition and to BJP's delight the role of Opposition has been taken over by their own allies. If drubbing in the Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Punjab was not enough, the Congress has now scored a self goal in Uttarakhand by creating a messy situation and faces the prospect of a split, which would benefit the BJP which is waiting for an opportunity to get back into the reckoning. A major rebellion broke out in the Congress when a heavyweight MP and Union Minister of State Harish Rawat and his supporting MLAs revolted against party president Sonia Gandhi’s decision to nominate Vijay Bahuguna as Uttarakhand Chief Minister. Poor Rawat, who was pipped to the CM’s post by ND Tiwari in 2002, has once again been humiliated by Congress’ cotorie which threw its weight behind a man who had faced corruption charges as a judge of the Allahabad and Mumbai HCs. Many leaders of state Congress in Uttarakhand have publicly claimed that they refused to accept Bahuguna as their leader because he worked against the party during the elections. Congress leadership has ruled out the possibility of changing the leadership in Uttarakhand, and is confident of placating Rawat.
The attitude of the Congress has been confrontonist and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's scant regard for the alliance partners brought to fore soon after results in the recent polls started tickling in.
God pray, why should Congress sermonise Mamata Banerjee that she would be crossing the Lakshman Rekha, and breaching the coalition dharma, by attending the swearing in ceremony of Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab. After all, swearing in ceremony is not a party affair and a state function presided over by the state Governor and such a senior leader like Parkash Singh Badal deserves more respect from Congress. Sharad Pawar, another important ally of Congress, wanted to attend Badal’s swearing in, that too raised eyebrows as if he was committing a cardinal sin.
By these Congress-promoted norms in politics, it has to be assumed that the Congressmen in Parliament ought not to be even seen chatting with the BJP members in the Central Hall, leave alone participate in deliberations with BJP that too with the so-called ‘communal’ taint? Needless to say, the politicians are different in their conduct. There is a lot of bonhomie, personal friendships cutting across party lines. Without that, no party in power can hope to have some working floor coordination in any legislative body. Everything seems to be in disarray—the party, the government and less said the better of governance. It appears the UPA-II is on a long holiday and needs to be told that it was not the railways that is in ICU but the government of the day is. Unless the allies make their existence felt Congress shall continue betraying the coalition dharma. But the public spat is indeed sickening.