Senior Congress leaders look in no mood to pander to the whims of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. The tone and tenor in statements made by Finance Minister P Chidambaram and Congress spokesperson Renuka Chaudhary while negating a rollback on FDI in retail, diesel prices and cap on subsidised LPG cylinders is a clear indicator that the ruling party has quickly internalised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s new-found theme that if they have to go down they should go down fighting.
Renuka Chaudhary characteristically paraphrased Mohammad Rafi’s immortal 1964 patriotic song from the movie Leader “…sar kata sakte hain lekin sar jhuka sakte nahi” to suggest that the reformist decisions were irreversible and the government would prefer to go down in history as a government which cared for the future. “Hamara sar kat sakta katega par hum jhukenge nahi’’ (we can have our heads chopped but we will not bow).
If Renuka was dramatic in her expression, Chidambaram was firm in ruling out a rollback. “As far as I know we are not rolling back any of these decisions…a political government knows what is doable and what is not doable. Advisers can advise, but we have done what is doable,” he said.
Even as some negotiations are on with the Trinamool Congress, the finance ministers’ assertion ahead of the alliance partner’s crucial parliamentary party meeting to review support to the UPA government, sends a clear public message to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee that it would no longer be bullied by her.
A Congress leader explained it ‘off-record’. It was a considered view that given Banerjee stiff posturing and her election manifesto making a mention of not allowing FDI in retail, it was difficult for her to be seen to be yielding. She thus has to make a decision of some kind, possibly withdrawal of ministers from the Union government. That doesn’t seem to worry strategists of the ruling coalition since she will still continue to support the government, albeit from outside. This will allow the government to make decisions without any inhibition.
A section of the Congress is actually concerned over the cap of six subsidised LPG cylinders. It feels the decision will cause anger among women and the impact might be felt in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Delhi and Karnataka elections. The price of a non-subsidised cylinder would cost almost double —Rs 750-800 — if the government does not reverse its decision. A senior leader said internally the party was in the process of convincing the government to raise the LPG cylinder cap from six to ten.
The Delhi government’s decision to increase the LPG cap from six to nine for BPL families appears farcical to many, given the Planning Commission’s norm that a person’s daily income limit has to be Rs 32 in urban areas to qualify as BPL. The fact is people living in slums and in LIG areas are electorally significant for the Congress in Delhi. Dikshit could hardly afford to quietly accept Centre’s cap of six cylinders under these circumstances.
The Congress has drawn the battle line, it will be seen on Tuesday whether the Trinamool goes to war or capitulates.