UPA on crutches, 72-hr lifeline

The sense of political doom is inescapable: Mercurial Mamata Banerjee has pulled out of the UPA coalition, in protest against the big-ticket reforms, which she feels are a sure recipe for disaster.  Her ministers would tender their resignations on Friday after namaz.

UPA on crutches, 72-hr lifeline

NEW DELHI : The process of crumbling of the UPA government may have begun. Chided by the Left and the BJP for not pulling the rug from under Dr Manmohan Singh’s feet, an aggressive Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday stumped her coalition partner by walking out of the UPA II.

As she declared her intent, an aggressive Banerjee described the slew of recent reforms as “a disaster for the poor” and said her party had been shown minimal respect by the UPA. However, she left the door ajar for possible reconciliation by declaring that her six ministers will tender resignations to the Prime Minister only on Friday afternoon after Namaaz.

TMC was the second-largest constituent of the UPA after the Congress.

According to sources, the hardening of stance came after the Prime Minister refused to yield on recent big-ticket reforms, which he asserted were needed to galvanize the economy. The Prime Minister, too, had made his intent clear on Saturday itself when he declared in the Planning Commission meeting that India “cannot live with policy paralysis any longer owing to political compulsions.”

In keeping with this new thinking within a section of the Congress, leaders would now get in touch with other like-minded parties, so that the reforms stay on course.

Despite some Congress leaders wanting Dr Manmohan Singh to call up Mamata before her party’s crucial meeting in Kolkata on Tuesday evening, the former consulted Sonia Gandhi instead. He explained to the Congress president that he was committed to the reform agenda, even if meant parting company with Mamata.

Sources said Mamata even made a call to the Prime Minister in the course of the meeting but either she switched off or the call dropped and then there was no call for any kind.

However, there were indications that Sonia Gandhi will now try to hammer a compromise but without jeopardising the FDI reform process. At best, the government may agree to a partial rollback in diesel prices and increase the cap on LPG cylinders.

Party sources said Gandhi might also speak to Mamata in her capacity as the UPA chairperson and head of the UPA coordination committee, since the TMC leader has accused the Congress of ill-treating her party.

UPA on crutches, 72-hr lifeline

The official reaction of the Congress was, however, tame. The Congress leaders professed that they were just not unnerved and asserted that there was no crisis in the UPA Government.

 The exit of her 19 MPs had not reduced the government to a minority since it can count on the outside support of 47 others — Samajwadi Party (22), Bahujan Samaj Party (21) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (4).

But SP made it clear to the UPA that “Don’t take us for granted.” Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav said after Banerjee’s announcement, “We will not join the government. Any party that does so will be wiped out in the general elections.” He added that his party would take a call after the nation-wide bandh on Thursday.

In the South, the DMK, another member of the UPA, has also decided to participate in the bandh.

Behind the doors, Congress leaders admitted that they would now be at the mercy of the BSP and the SP, which might drive even a harder bargain than Mamata in terms of political concessions and financial packages. Senior party leaders also fumed at Mamata for linking FDI in multi-brand retail trade with coalgate and accusing the government of corruption.

Officially, however, the government continued to take the line that the Trinamool ministers were not quitting immediately. The party spokesperson even declared that Trinamool was still a valued ally and remained so despite her announcement.

In a guarded reaction, Congress chief spokesman Janardan Dwivedi indicated that Mamata has still left room for talks and so the final word has not yet come from her. He refused to answer if the government is ready to bend before demands for rollback of the diesel price hike, subsidised LPG rationing and FDI in multi-brand retail trade, stating that Mamata has raised some issues and it is for the government to discuss them.

It is here that Rahul Gandhi may step in with a statement as a part of the Congress strategy to press for relaxation in the diesel price and LPG rationing. He may also ask the government to address Mamata’s grievance that the Trinamool Congress’ concerns were disregarded despite it being the second largest partner in the UPA.

Junior Trinamool minister Sultan Ahmed too kindled Congress hope by pointing out that his party can still reconsider its drastic decision if the rollbacks demanded by Mamata are announced by Friday before he and five other ministers hand over their resignations to the Prime Minister.

A Union minister, who had to deal with Mamata’s ministers at the Centre, however, pointed out that the UPA government will be able to cruise through the crisis and it should not accommodate her any more.

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