The relationship between the Congress and the Trinamool has always been like a bad marriage. The two parties were like two disparate individuals with very little in common who happened to get together for some reason or the other— in the case mere convenience or political expediency— and spent the greater part of their time together squabbling. The threat of a split always loomed large but both tried desperately to make it work. Initially there were some attempts at adjustments and each occasionally gave in to the wishes and demands of the other but, with time, these efforts too became few and far between. After many arguments, tantrums and even ultimatums, finally one party decided enough was enough and decided to walk out. But what makes the Trinamool’s and Congress’ alliance exactly like a marriage is that even as they parted ways, they both nurtured some hope of a reunion but their egos prevented them from making the first move.
The Trinamool chief and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee gave the Congress nearly 3 days— from Tuesday night when she announced her decision to withdraw support after a 3-hour meeting in Calcutta with her party colleagues to Friday afternoon— to make amends. That she didn’t really want to take the extreme step was evident by the way some of her demands became significantly attenuated. For instance, at first she stated that she wanted the cap on subsidized cooking gas cylinders to be fixed at 24 per annum (two per month per family) instead of the 6 per annum (one for every two months) that Manmohan Singh government had announced. But later she made it known that she settle would even settle for 12 cylinders per annum. But the PM didn’t relent. Political analyst Ashis Chakrabarti wrote in his column in the Telegraph that part of the reason that the TMC’s parliamentary party meeting lasted 3 long hours— during which Mamata heard out the views of each of her colleagues, something she rarely does— perhaps was because she was giving Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi time, waiting for a call or a text message from them. That didn’t happen either. And then suddenly this afternoon, barely hours before the TMC ministers were to resign, the central government announced certain cuts in prices of cooking gas from the 7th cylinder onward.
Not subsidies, but certain taxes were waived, which would lessen the burden on the consumer. But it was perhaps too little, too late. By then Mamata Banerjee had made her way to an event in suburban Bengal (it is not known whether she was informed of this move over telephone) where she was captured on television cameras delivering a lecture completely unrelated to the withdrawal of support that was at that moment going on in Delhi. While her party ministers were meeting the Prime Minister at his residence on 7 Racecourse Road and tendering their resignations, she looked— or at least was trying to look— nonchalant. “ I do feel sad. Several of us were hoping against hopes that ultimately Mamata Banerjee would change her mind,” a Congress parliamentarian told NDTV. And Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself reportedly also told the 6 resigning TMC ministers that he was “saddened.”
But the divorce— as it were— came through. TMC and UPA II are no longer together.
The split at the Centre has had a domino effect. The Congress high command has instructed the Bengal Congress, which are coalition partners with TMC in the state, to withdraw support and pull out its ministers. Congress has six ministers in the Bengal cabinet and 60 out of the 292 MLAs, but TMC has majority so the pullout will not bring the government down. According to Pradesh Congress President, the municipalities and panchayats where TMC and Congress have ties- ups are not going to be immediately impacted by the shake-up. “Local leaders like block or district leaders usually work out the tie-up arrangements at that level. So even if there is a shake up it is a decision that will have to be taken at that level. We are not going take any decisions on that at the moment.” In the meantime, the Bengal Congress has asked the High Command to fill the gap of the Railway Ministry— vacated by TMC’s Mukul Roy— with a Congress MP from Bengal. In a letter to Sonia Gandhi, Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra pointed out that after the TMC ministers’ resignation and with Pranab Mukherjee gone to Raisina Hill, not a single cabinet minister was from Bengal. He urged the UPA chairperson to give at least 3 ministries to Congress MPs from Bengal.
While the break-up of the Congress-TMC alliance is good for the Left Front since it was this tie-up which cost them the Assembly Elections (coupled with a series of disastrous actions by the CPIM-led government including Nandigram, Singur and Lalgarh), there is one downside for them. At the moment the Congress has more MLAs in Assembly than the Left. Which means now the Congress will wrest the position of main opposition party from the Left and the leader of the opposition will be a Congress MLA. Right now CPIM’s Surya Kanta Mishra is the Leader of the Opposition.
One party that has been praising Mamata Banerjee quite a bit is the BJP. Bengal BJP vice president Tapas Chatterjee said, “We welcome Mamata Banerjee’s decision to withdraw from the UPA II government. The grounds on which she has withdrawn support shows that she is committed to the cause of the poor people.” Politicians of one party eulogizing policy decisions of another politician belonging to another party is rare. Even though the Left has the same objections as Mamata Banerjee to FDI in multibrand retail, diesel price hike and a cap on cooking gas cylinders, no Left member has gone to the extent of publicly supporting her position. If anything, they tried to find some issue with which to distance themselves from TMC. Prakash Karat for instance observed that Mamata Banerjee failed to stop FDI in retail even though she was in the government; while during UPA I, the Left succeeded in stopping it. Never mind that the argument doesn’t hold considering it was not necessarily the Left’s successful political agitation that stopped FDI from being introduced at that time (otherwise they wouldn’t have withdrawn support later on the issue of the nuclear deal) but rather that the time was not ripe. Mamata has been accused of hijacking the Left agenda by attaching itself to pro-poor causes, but the Left has not once admitted that what Mamata is doing is the “right” course of action. In this scenario, BJP’s constant praise of Mamata Banerjee— from the party’s central leaders like Ravi Shankar Prasad to state leaders— does make you wonder if the BJP and TMC are in talks to form an alliance. Both parties have denied this but only time will tell.
According to reports, the six ministers who had gone to the Prime Minister’s residence to hand in their resignations were offered two cups of tea each. At a coffee shop a group of college students were discussing how many cups of tea must be made at the Prime Ministers residence everyday and how many cooking gas cylinders he would be requiring per month.
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