Yesterday’s rail budget was hailed as bold, visionary etc by most media commentators as it should be for hiking passenger fares after nine long years and also for proposing to put an independent regulatory body to decide on fare changes. The latter, particularly, is a move in the right direction if essential economic decisions have to be depoliticised. The world of social media was abuzz with comments hailing Dinesh Trivedi, Hon’ble Railway Minister till last evening, for being bold, visionary and putting the country ahead of his party. After all, most had given up any hopes of passenger fare increases after the steep increase in freight rates leading up to the Railway budget.
The euphoria soon gave way to dismay as news came in that Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal and party leader of Dinesh Trivedi, asked the PM to sack the Railway Minister and, subsequently, the Railway Minister had reportedly sent in his resignation. Social media is aghast – some have called it feudal India, a friend posted that he was “ashamed of being called a Bengali” and another posted “One woman is ruining the country. Time her bluff is called.” You get the general idea that opprobrium is being heaped on Mamata Banerjee for running her party like a dictator in what is the largest democracy in the world.
But should we be really blaming her? She has put a spanner on the works for the UPA and done better than the opposition in putting the government on the mat on numerous issues like the Teesta Accord, NCTC, FDI in multi-brand retail and now the Railway Budget. But doesn’t this show the inability or unwillingness of the Congress party, which leads the UPA coalition, to come to terms with the fact that it is running a coalition government and is not in total power? Time and again, it has taken its coalition partners for granted or tried to be too clever by half and present its partners with a fait accompli from where its coalition partners would have no choice but to toe its line. Mamata has called the Congress’s bluff rather than it being the other way round. And this is the same Congress which looked the other way when Raja was swindling the exchequer because of “coalition compulsions”.
Given coalition compulsions why cannot the Congress and its senior ministers try and bring on board Mamata Banerjee instead of surprising her at every step and trying to present her with a fait accompli? She has reacted in a manner that is consistent with her known behavioural pattern and her sense of victimisation. Congress should stop trying to speak down to its allies from a supposed high ground and shed its arrogance when it comes to dealing with alliance partners. Otherwise it may find there is no terra firma where it thinks it is standing.
Whether Mamata has been feudal or anti-national or whatever, what would the Congress President do if in tomorrow’s budget speech Pranab Mukherjee, Hon’ble Finance Minister, announces that he is abolishing MNREGA because it is fiscally ruinous, has led to no asset creation and only bred increased corruption, and that the cabinet would not go ahead with the Food Security Bill because it will be a blow to the fiscal situation of the country and the PDS is broken and he would come back with it only after the PDS is reformed or there is a mechanism for cash transfer of subsidies?
Any guesses for how long will he remain the Finance Minister after that?
No, it is not Mamata to be blamed. If anyone is to be blamed it should be the Congress which has not even managed to keep its ally informed, forget about getting her on board. Meanwhile we can all cry for our country.