Mamata’s Juggernaut Through Sonia’s Corridor
The Union Budget 2012-13 was presented amidst hopes and apprehensions. While Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee read out in great detail the list of sectors on the negative list for service tax he did it with all expressions in his bag—whether it was a smile, despair, disgust or calmness–so as to keep all UPA partners in a good spirit, particularly the Trinamool Congress (TMC), especially after the Trinammol Congress chief Mamata Banerjee’s outrage following the Railway Budget, presented by a TMC Minister. The Trivedi episode showed that if a minister endeavours to tread the empirical path, he is chugged out. So the compulsions of an alliance government have again come to the fore, which was witnessed during the stand-off between Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the subject of Mamata’s demand for rollback in Railways fares hike and also the sacking of the Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi. This was really an embarrassing moment for the Indian democracy as the central government succumbed to the whims of Chief Minister. For, the hike in Railways’ fares is so necessary and authentic that Railways employees unions are up in arms against any rollback in the fares. Even as Trivedi was sacked, the Indian Railways is now faced with a gloomy scenario of a strong protest under the aegis of Railways two biggest unions, namely National Federation of Indian Railmen and All Indian Railwaymen’s Federation. These two unions have strength of 14 lakh Railways employees besides the support of other three unions. The Railwaymen’s grievances are noteworthy against the backdrop that their so many allowances like travel have been delayed for several months and they don’t want to undergo the same crisis as Air India has been going through. It is disgusting to see that the presentation of a budget has become an exercise in futility. If the minister concerned presents a budget that is impregnated with populist measures, it is then okay. Otherwise, the minister is kicked out. In fact, the UPA government is passing through a tough time. The two big partners of the UPA alliance—TMC and DMK—are making the Congress-led UPA government eat crow. First Mamata Banerjee shook the government out of its slumber then DMK made so much hullaballoo over the issue of Tamils’ plight in Sri Lanka. Faced with gargantuan pressure from the DMK, including a threat to pull out its ministers from the government, the Prime Minister had to finally announce that the government was inclined to vote in favour of a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. The statement produced the desired result–the DMK cancelled its next step. But as for the “feelings” of the political parties in Tamil Nadu, it should be clear by now that for them, the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is an opportunity for cynical one-upmanship, and nothing more. As if this was not enough, the UPA government has several other issues to handle with care. Many non-Congress Chief Ministers are rolling up their sleeves to throw down the gauntlet to the central governments on issues such as FDI in retail, Lokpal Bill, NCTC, etc.
The sordid drama of Dinesh Trivedi’s resignation on Mamata Banerjee’s demand, with the PM watching helplessly, shows the perils of a coalition government. This tension is certain to continue defining politics in the coming two years, i.e. till general elections in 2014. In fact, the threat of smaller parties made central parties into coalition-leaders in the 1990s. To be precise, May 16, 1996, the day PV Narasimha Rao resigned as Prime Minister, marked the end of the last single-party government in New Delhi. The country has seen eight coalition regimes in the eventful years since then. The experience has elicited varied responses. Some have hailed the era of multi-party regimes as an end to the monopoly of power the Congress had enjoyed in the first three post-Independence decades. Some others have seen the new dispensation as giving the different regions and the regionalist forces their rightful, federal due. Still others, however, sighed nostalgically for the gone-with-the-wind era of stability and nationalist outlook. But the way Mamata Banerjee is showing her dominance over UPA and impeding the progress on many important bills is not a good sign in coalition politics. She wants her own political mileage in the name of common people’s plight. Her act of removal of Railway Minister without even concerning Parliament session running shows her autocracy. Her audacious behavior also shows that she is the only supreme authority of her self-established regional outfit. Any kind of decision taken by his party members is said to be a humiliating job in which the latest sufferer is Dinesh Trivedi. What is perturbing is that not only Mamata, every boss of regional parties seems to be a solo-decision maker. Their wish and hope are the main point and others are bound to follow. Is it a symptom of democracy, when a Railway Minister had no capacity to draw what he thought correct? So, taking a cue from the recent episode, the people of this country should realise the realities of fractured verdicts and be ready to answer if they are asked to bite the bullet in the near future.