|No prizes for guessing whose finger has been thrust into the face of the UPA.
Calcutta, Sept. 18: Mamata Banerjee tonight announced her intention to withdraw support to the Manmohan Singh government, casting herself as “somebody who has to bell the cat”.
The announcement — far more sweeping than the staggered steps that many were expecting — came at the expiry of a 72-hour deadline to roll back economic decisions announced by the Centre last week.
But Mamata set a new deadline — a three-day window till Friday — and certain revised benchmarks for reconsidering her decision to exit the UPA.
The decision to pull the plug on the UPA government was taken at a meeting attended by around 75 party functionaries, including Union ministers, ministers in the state cabinet and other prominent leaders.
“Sometimes somebody has to bell the cat,” Mamata told a news conference after the meeting that lasted around three hours at the Town Hall in the heart of Calcutta.
Sources present at the meeting told The Telegraph that Mamata heard out around 30-odd speakers —starting with former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi — before summing up their views, which she rolled out later at the news conference.
“Our ministers in the Union cabinet will go to Delhi and tender their resignations on Friday,” Mamata said.
“We have decided not to be part of UPA II any longer and we will withdraw our support to this government. We don’t accept these anti-people policies,” she declared, adding that she would also oppose the pension reform bill and take her protest to Delhi.
Sources confirmed that Trinamul parliamentary party leader Mukul Roy would submit a letter to President Pranab Mukherjee on Friday, informing him of the decision to withdraw support to the government.
The three-day gap between the decision and its implementation can be construed as Mamata’s last attempt to force the Centre to give in to her demands.
“If the diesel price is reduced by Rs 3 to Rs 4 a litre, the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders is raised to 12 from six a year, fertiliser prices are reduced and the decision on FDI in multi-brand retail is withdrawn, we will surely reconsider the decision,” Mamata said.
Earlier in the same news conference, she had, however, rolled out a slightly different set of conditions for a review of the decisions — full rollback in diesel price hike, 24 LPG cylinders a year at the subsidised rate and withdrawal of the FDI decision on multi-brand retail.
Other than concessions on LPG, it did not appear till late tonight that the Centre was preparing to yield ground.
“We had given the Centre three days to review their anti-people decisions…. They are claiming that FDI in retail will benefit farmers. I don’t believe that. They have done this to divert attention from the Coalgate scam. If there is a vote, we will vote against the government,” she added, blaming the Centre for the collapse of the alliance stitched before the 2009 general election.
Later, she said she was not worried about voting with the CPM and the BJP on the matter, describing it as a “people’s issue”.
During the past 40 months — the age of the UPA II government — the relationship between the two partners had hit rocky patches several times.
On almost all these occasions, Mamata had threatened to take “tough measures”, which forced either Prime Minister Singh or Sonia Gandhi to intervene and defuse the crisis. But this time, the Centre has held its ground so far.
“I had sent a message to Congress chairperson Sonia Gandhi informing her that we won’t support these measures. But I haven’t heard anything from the Centre,” Mamata said this evening, without hiding her disappointment with the Congress leadership.
Although she did not name Singh or Sonia — with whom she shares a cordial relationship — in the particular context, she fiercely criticised the Congress.
“I know the Congress game…. They will approach Mayawati if there is a quarrel with Mamata, they will approach Mulayam if there is a quarrel with Mayawati, they will approach Lalu if there is a quarrel with Nitish, they will approach AIADMK if there is a quarrel with DMK. I have seen this blackmailing politics for long,” Mamata said.
Some Trinamul leaders to whom The Telegraph spoke this evening said that everyone in her inner circle was aware of her “disappointment” but was still taken by surprise. “We expected that she would withdraw ministers from the cabinet but the decision to withdraw support to the Centre came as a surprise,” said a Trinamul leader.
He, however, added that a significant majority of the leaders, who got the opportunity to speak, batted for withdrawal of support before Mamata gave her approval.
“People said what our leader wanted to hear. This is not the first time that party leaders have advised her to withdraw support. In the past, she didn’t take the plunge because she wanted the Centre’s support to solve the debt crisis and use the ministries for the development of the state. We expected her to do the same this time as well, but she didn’t,” added the leader.
Sources said at least two leaders advised against rushing into a withdrawal now in view of Bengal’s interests but the overwhelming chorus for exit prevailed.
“One or two people will feel that the loss of the railways will cost us dear…. But if people are with us, we may get many more,” Mamata said at the news conference, trying to address the concerns of sections of the party.