The UPA’s task of the day is managing ally Mamata Banerjee, who is upset that petrol prices were hiked last week without her being consulted. In Delhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will meet the Trinamool Congress’ 18 Lok Sabha and six Rajya Sabha MPs. In Kolkata, Finance Minister and the Congress’ chief troubleshooter Pranab Mukherjee will meet Trinamool chief Ms Banerjee.
The second meeting is crucial. Sources say Ms Banerjee, who is also the West Bengal chief minister, is trying to drive a hard bargain with the Centre for a hefty financial package for her state, which is in fiscal disarray. The Union Finance Minister is also meeting West Bengal Governor MK Narayanan on the state’s financial health today and a promise of more funds would go a long way in making Mamata Banerjee smile again.
Mr Mukherjee today refused to comment on the possibility of a petrol price hike rollback saying the Prime Minister was discussing the matter with the Trinamool Congress.
“Whatever decision the Prime Minister will take, that will be implemented, let us wait for that.” But as the government’s two top leaders attempt to resolve the crisis set up by Ms Banerjee’s sulk over last week’s petrol price hike, the Trinamool has made that task a little easier by saying they are not insisting on the rollback after all.
Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi said today that there were no threats. “Democracy does not work on threats….we are not children, we have to behave maturely…Mamata was candid and clear that the concern be taken to the PM’s doorstep. I am sure that the PM is equally concerned,” the Trinamool’s only Cabinet-ranked minister said.
The Trinamool MPs say they will meet the PM to insist that there be better coordination with the allies. Mamata Banerjee is angry that her party was not consulted on raising petrol prices by Rs. 1.82. Her message on Friday last – “Talk to us before taking critical decisions like the petrol price hike, or we quit.”
The Trinamool is so far keeping all options open on its threat to pull out from the UPA, or withdrawing its ministers from the government and lending outside support instead. Before leaving Kolkata, the seven Trinamool ministers submitted their resignations to Ms Banerjee. Sudip Bandopadhyay did say, however, that Mamata wanted any decision to be made only after consultations with the PM.
The Congress believes all will be well. Party leaders both in Kolkata and in Delhi have expressed not the slightest doubt that the Mamata crisis will blow over soon – they are by now seasoned in handling a Mamata Banerjee temper bout.
Pradip Bhattacharya of the West Bengal Congress sees the latest Mamata Banerjee threat as a game plan to press for more funds for her state. The angry ally card gives her the opportunity to bargain harder. Mr Bhattacharya says this is “not an empty threat, but I think it will evaporate.” In Delhi, Law Minister Salman Khurshid said, “We cannot afford financial instability in our country. We could not get anybody better than our PM to solve this situation.”
Despite his party’s apparent nonchalance, the PM will work hard to ensure that the Trinamool MPs leave today’s meeting satisfied. With her 18 Lok Sabha MPs, Ms Banerjee is the Congress’ largest ally and an indispensable part of the UPA.
If Mamata Banerjee withdraws her ministers or walks out, the UPA’s numbers will be shaky. Her seven ministers in the government are Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, who is the only Trinamool minister with Cabinet rank, Mukul Roy, Minister of State, Shipping; Sudeep Bandopadhyay, Minister of State, Health; Saugata Roy, Minister of State, Urban Development; CM Jatua, Minister of State, Information and Broadcasting; Sisir Adhikari, Minister of State, Rural Development and Sultan Ahmed, Minister of State, Tourism.