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Singh stings, so does Mamata

- PM ‘regrets’ Dinesh exit after vision budget, CM cites Sonia parallel

New Delhi, March 19: The curtain has come down on the Dinesh Trivedi episode but the Congress is grappling with new irritants and potshots that could worsen its relations with the Trinamul Congress.

The loud cheer and thumping of desks by Congress MPs and the glum faces of Trinamul members when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed outgoing minister Trivedi bore testimony to the conflicting interests and perceptions of the two allies.

In the evening, Mamata struck back from television screens and drew a parallel with Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. “It is my right to decide who will be the railway minister, Why Sonia decides who should be the Prime Minister of the country?” she told CNN-IBN during an interview. ( )

A few hours earlier, replying to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address, the Prime Minister had said: “I regret the departure of Shri Trivedi. He had presented the railway budget, which promised to carry out the Vision 2020 that was outlined by his predecessor. A new railway minister will be sworn in shortly. He will have the onerous duty of carrying forward the challenging task of modernising our railway system.” Although Singh’s message was subtle, its import becomes clearer if read along with the preceding paragraph of his speech. He said: “I am sure that the honourable members also realise that the difficult decisions that we have to take are made more difficult by the fact that we are a coalition government and we have to evolve policy keeping in mind the need to maintain a consensus. The challenges that this poses have been sharply brought out in the developments following the presentation of the railway budget.”

Asked why the Prime Minister risked annoying Mamata Banerjee again, a senior cabinet minister said: “We are sad he is so helpless but this is the minimum he could have done.”

The Prime Minister’s cautious demonstration of his displeasure at Mamata’s behaviour delighted Congress MPs who felt any sharper message could have invited greater trouble for the coalition at a time the deal with Mulayam Singh Yadav had still not been clinched.

“Let me put this very bluntly to you. We are not going to be part of the UPA government at the Centre,” Mulayam Singh told reporters in response to questions in Lucknow today.

Mulayam Singh further said: “We will not be in the government even if the Congress approaches us in future. We are merely supporting the government from outside. We will continue to do that.”

The Samajwadi leader could not have said anything else in public at a time the Congress is continuing with its backroom efforts.

The Congress, too, snubbed its general secretary Digvijaya Singh who had publicly discussed the possibility of the Samajwadi Party joining the UPA government. Party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said: “These decisions are taken by parties, not individuals. When there is an agreement between Sonia Gandhi and Mulayam Singh, we will get back to you.”

If a deal is eventually worked out, the Samajwadi Party would join the government only under the pretext that it is helping the Congress under the compulsion of keeping the BJP out of power. Mulayam laid stress on this point today: “Let me also clarify: our support to the UPA is based on only one issue keep the communal forces out of power.”

In spite of the absence of any signs of breakthrough in Lucknow, there was no denying that every Congress MP relished the moment in the Lok Sabha when Trinamul members, except for a smiling Trivedi, squirmed in their seats as the Prime Minister spoke.

Minutes later, it was the Congress that fidgeted as Opposition members forced a vote in the House, exposing the government’s numerical vulnerability, though the motions on the President’s speech were defeated.

The level of concern is deeper for the Rajya Sabha where the ruling combine does not have majority. Voting will take place in Rajya Sabha after the Prime Minister’s reply tomorrow morning.

If Trinamul again walks out, along with the BSP which has 17 members, and the Samajwadi Party votes for the government, the amendments will be defeated. But there will be trouble if Trinamul decides to vote and the BSP changes its mind. Although a defeat would not hurt the government, except causing embarrassment, any trouble accentuated by an ally will create new tensions.

Another potential source of friction is the Rajya Sabha election in Bengal where the Congress has fielded its candidate, Abdul Mannan, whose win will be ensured if the Left offers support. Although the Congress is publicly claiming that it relies on support only from Trinamul, the internal calculation is that the CPM will help its candidate manage the shortfall.

If the Congress wins by defeating one of the Trinamul candidates, Mamata will have reasons to hawk the Congress-CPM nexus theory. But several Congress leaders feel the party should take up the challenge as, they believe, it has to stand up and fight the Trinamul dominance sooner or later.


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