UPA-2I has become a minority government at the centre. An angry Mamata Banerjee has kept her 72-hour warning to the government on the diesel price hike and FDI in retail by withdrawing support to the government when the rollback didn't happen.
She withdrew support on Tuesday evening. From the required majority mark of 272, the Congress-led Manmohan Singh government has been reduced to 254.
Nineteen months ahead of the next general elections, when parliamentary elections are otherwise scheduled in April-May 2014, it could just prove to be too tricky for the Congress to keep on managing the numbers in Parliament all the time.
The Mamata withdrawal puts a question-mark on the delivery of the supposed reform package, an issue on which an adamant Prime Minister Manmohan Singh forced her out, to the extent of putting the continuance of the government at stake.
The PM and Congress strategists may been guided by the ultimate results of the vote on the nuclear deal in July 2008, when the Samajwadi Party (SP) rather unexpectedly supported UPA-2 on the withdrawal of Left Front support.
No two situations are the same, but the Congress leadership would hope for a repeat situation of UPA-1. It would like to believe that with Mamata Banerjee’s exit, Mulayam Singh Yadav, with his 22 SP members, and Mayawati, with her 21 BSP members, will continue to support the government to perpetuity.
In announcing the withdrawal of support, Mamata surprised all. Not many, and least of all the Congress, had hoped that she could be that tough. After all they had succeeded in taming her in the Presidential elections.
She turned her media conference to announce the withdrawal of support to send a message to her social constituency. So much so, in her own words, “the six Trinamool ministers led by Mukul Roy will land in Delhi on Friday and after offering Juma Namaz (Friday's Namaz) they will hand over their resignation to the prime minister”.
Almost a quarter of West Bengal electorate constitutes Muslims and the resignations after Juma Namaz is directly addressed to that vote bank. She also revealed that she had told UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi that she must intervene for a rollback, otherwise the TMC would have to walk out of the coalition.
The intent of this revelation was to put the onus for withdrawal of support on Sonia and the Congress party, which she called a “blackmailer”. She almost echoed BJP veteran LK Advani’s words when she accused the UPA of suddenly opening the “FDI gate to divert attention from Coalgate”.
To add to the Congress’s woes, its second largest partner, the DMK, with 18 members, appears all set to join the SP-Left Front and NDA Bharat bandh call on 20 September.
The first response from Samajawadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav could not be encouraging for the Congress. The opposition NDA's Chairman LK Advani came out with a sharp attack: “Disintegration of this government has started. It’s a matter of time before it collapses. It is certain that it will not continue till 2014.
The BJP and the NDA will, however, wait till the 20 September Bharat bandh to see how the two outside supporters, SP or BSP, officially make their moves. It has decided to urge President Pranab Mukherjee to call for a special session of Parliament to discuss FDI with the provision to vote.
That could make the Congress's position very critical, which has so far always maintained that it was ready to debate any issue in Parliament.
The Samajwadi Party too is sulking, particularly after the prime minister completely ignored its vociferous opposition to quotas in promotion and went ahead with the advice of BSP chief Mayawati on the subject.
Mamata’s shock treatment to UPA not just puts a question mark on the announced “reforms” but also on those which Finance Minister P Chidambaram had only a day ago announced would be coming in days to come. Those could now go to the freezer - unless they are pure administrative moves.
The UPA leadership seems to have a fair idea as to what was coming even as the second-rung leaders maintained a brave front. Just as Mamata was meeting with her leaders to discuss the modalities of withdrawal, Sonia Gandhi drove to the prime minister’s residence on 7 Race Course Road for a one-on-one meeting with Manmohan Singh.
It was initially speculated that they were discussing a cabinet reshuffle and overhaul of the organisational structure. The agenda for the meeting, as it transpired later, was much more serious.