New Delhi, Sept. 21: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a curt send-off to the Trinamul ministers who put in their papers today but President Pranab Mukherjee gave them a guided tour of Rashtrapati Bhavan after Mukul Roy handed over the letter withdrawing support to the government.
The six Trinamul ministers spent just over five minutes with Singh at his 7 Race Course residence. They neither sat down nor were offered tea.
Mukul, the only cabinet minister among the six, handed over the bunch of resignations. Singh and the visitors exchanged a few words of courtesy but they lacked warmth, sources said.
“Your decision to resign is painful,” a Trinamul member quoted Singh as saying. “Thank you for your guidance and blessings,” one of the outgoing ministers managed to mumble back.
“It was a grim send-off,” a Trinamul member said. He explained that the group did not have the time to chat with the Prime Minister since they had to reach Rashtrapati Bhavan at 4.30pm. The appointment with Singh was for 4pm.
The President welcomed the Bengal MPs in and made them comfortable. He offered them tea, snacks and sweets and led them on a brief tour of portions of the historical mansion.
“Pranabda did not talk politics. He was calm and composed and showed us where dinners are hosted and where foreign dignitaries are put up,” a Trinamul member said. “It was a nice experience.”
The visitors did not ask the President to direct the government to seek a vote of confidence. “No, we did not demand anything like that,” Saugata Roy, outgoing junior urban development minister, said.
Mukul, however, said the party wanted a vote in Parliament over FDI in multi-brand retail. “The government has breached an undertaking to Parliament and brought in FDI in retail. There should be a vote in the House to determine who wants FDI in retail,” he said.
Despite the display of bravado, the Trinamul members didn’t seem too happy about losing their beacon-fitted cars and other ministerial benefits. The mood was visible at Mukul’s 181 South Avenue residence, where the group gathered before leaving to meet Singh and Mukherjee.
Many of the ministers had driven there in their official cars and planned to climb back into them for the ride to the Prime Minister’s residence. Mukul, perhaps under a directive from Mamata Banerjee, punctured their plans.
“When we have decided to resign, why should we use the official car? We’ll go in private or hired cars,” he said. Everybody had to nod in agreement.
Industrialist turned parliamentarian K.D. Singh, owner of the Rs 10,000-crore Alchemist group, too arrived to participate in the final parting. The moment he walked in, Sultan Ahmed tried to lighten the mood.
“Hum berozgar ho gaye. Ab aapke Alchemist group me naukri ka application denge (We have become jobless. Now we shall apply to your company for jobs),” he said, drawing guffaws.
K.D. Singh didn’t look too amused. He had recently resigned as chairman of Alchemist in his son’s favour, a move many in Trinamul believe was prompted by his hope of becoming a junior minister.
But there was no stopping Sultan. When some members wondered how the Prime Minister would react, he quipped: “Hum pradhan mantri ko mukti dene jaa rahe hain (we are going there to free the Prime Minister).”
Another minister retorted: “Humko bhi mukti milega (it will be freedom for us too).”
Saugata seemed to agree: “Now we shall have the freedom to attack the government in Parliament. Now everyone will see how we attack the government.”
Choudhury Mohan Jatua justified the parting. “Else, we would have fared badly in the panchayat polls,” he said. Few, however, seemed convinced.
But what will happen to the government, someone asked. “It won’t last long,” Mukul predicted. “It will not be able to present the next budget.”
Again, not many agreed. “The Congress knows how to manage the numbers,” one MP later remarked.
Some of the outgoing ministers spent a lot of time in their offices today signing files and packing their belongings.
Junior health minister Sudip Bandopadhyay rushed a note to his senior Ghulam Nabi Azad demanding the proposed AIIMS-like institute for Bengal be built in Kalyani and not Raiganj. Among the personal belongings he carried home was a framed photo of Mamata and a copy of the latest Economic Survey.
Mukul did not go to Rail Bhavan. Sources said he got some files, mostly relating to Bengal, brought to his residence and cleared them.
Asked when he would be in Delhi again, Mukul said: “Next week. Trinamul will demonstrate against FDI in retail at Jantar Mantar.”