New Delhi, Sept. 18: The Congress said the issues raised by “valuable” ally Mamata Banerjee would be discussed with the government, the measured response masking the anger in the party till a strategy is evolved.
The Congress leadership was taken aback by what one leader described as an “intemperate” assault on the government, particularly Mamata’s assertion that the reforms were announced to divert attention from the coal scandal.
Top Congress sources indicated that a rapprochement would be difficult now, although Mamata has left ajar a three-day window.
Asked about the party’s cautious official response, a Congress leader said: “We know our politics, we are not in the business of street fights.”
Conveying the official reaction, Congress general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said: “We always treated Mamata Banerjee as our valuable ally. Whatever she has said today, we will consider her a valuable ally till the final decision is taken by her. She has raised some issues. We will certainly discuss those issues with the government.”
The response fuelled speculation of a possible compromise, even a surrender by the Congress. But some senior leaders countered the perception in off-the-record conversations, asserting that conceding all the demands made by her was “out of the question”.
“What compromise with a person who speaks the BJP’s language and condemns policies of the government as a ploy to suppress the coal scandal?” a senior Congress leader asked.
The Congress is, doubtless, uneasy about the fallout of the LPG decision and many ministers want the annual cap to be raised to eight or 10 subsidised cylinders. But there is also appreciation of the need to raise the diesel price and support the FDI decision.
Asked if Sonia Gandhi would consider forcing the government to roll back the decisions in order to ensure the survival of the UPA, a senior minister said: “That would be suicidal.”
Party sources said Sonia would speak to Mamata before Friday.
But the Congress’s irrepressible general secretary, Digvijaya Singh, lost no time in articulating the hawkish view. “FDI decision was taken in national interest, fully knowing the political fallout. I hope the government will stand firm like it did during the nuclear deal,” Digvijaya tweeted.
The government, too, appears to have received Mamata’s announcement with a sense of shock and anguish.
Commerce minister Anand Sharma, who pushed the FDI decision to the hilt, told The Telegraph after Mamata’s announcement: “It is unfair to say that she was not consulted. I have talked to her in person three times, once in Calcutta and twice in Delhi. I wrote to her twice, she did not reply.”
Sharma added: “She had told me that states should be given the freedom to decide for themselves and the enabling provision was inserted in the notification in deference to her wishes. We respect her as a valuable ally and her views were taken seriously.”
The commerce minister iterated that it would be undemocratic for some chief ministers to brush aside the wishes of the other chief ministers and the associations of farmers and consumers who want FDI in multi-brand retail.
The Congress will try to use the window of opportunity left open by Mamata till Friday to persuade her and offer some concessions but a complete surrender is being ruled out till tonight.
The government does not face any immediate crisis as a no-confidence motion can be brought only in the winter session of Parliament. The BJP has sought a special session but such a step will require the President’s assent.
While there is some time for arranging a majority, parties like the BSP and the RJD are opposed to early polls. Even if the Samajwadi Party is keen to force an election at the earliest, the Left is not known to share the eagerness.
Some Congress leaders feel there would be an attempt to dislodge the government before the next budget but they insisted that it meant enough time to marshal support.