After testing the nerves of Trinamool Congress boss Mamata Banerjee for four days, railway minister Dinesh Trivedi on Sunday night resigned from the Union Cabinet to bring down the curtain on the controversy that his rail budget kicked off.
Trivedi called Banerjee just as she was about to leave for Delhi and conveyed the decision to quit. It marked a sudden change of heart for the minister who only a day back had refused to carry out the party’s demand and insisted that Banerjee give him the direction in writing. Sources said Banerjee was coming to Delhi for the parliamentary party meeting where Trivedi would have been asked to resign.
Trivedi earned the party’s wrath when he presented a rail budget recommending fare hike across the board. Banerjee dubbed it a betrayal of the party philosophy and wrote to the prime minister that he sack Trivedi and suggested party’s Union minister of state Mukul Roy as replacement.
The resignation, however, has not lifted the fog over two crucial demands that TMC made in the wake of its mutiny over the party minister’s rail budget – rollback of fare hike and Mukul Roy answering the debate on the rail budget.
The Centre is keen to stick to the fare hike as decided by Trivedi’s budget. While it is certain that the hike for the sleeper classes would be rolled back, it is to be seen how much concession the government has been able to secure from the Trinamool boss. A partial rollback would be to the Centre’s liking.
The government would prefer that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee reply to the railway budget debate. All eyes are now on how much Banerjee pushes for Roy’s swift swearing in as railway minister. There are indications that the Centre could accept a request if she was insistent.
Congress would be watching TMC’s cooperation to the PM’s reply to the debate on the motion of thanks to the President’s address. TMC had announced to oppose the reference to NCTC and Congressmen feared that it could throw its weight behind the amendments moved by BJP.
Congress had assured TMC that the PM would clarify that the Centre would not move on the counter terror body till it had heard the chief ministers in an April meeting.
Despite the doubts, Trivedi’s resignation seems a boost for de-escalation. The allies faced off recently over a variety of issues, mostly because of Banerjee’s brinkmanship. It would ensure that the PM’s reply is not mired in controversy. The opposition had decided to raise Trivedi’s presence in treasury benches to seek clarifications on the controversy. His presence would have been untenable in view of Banerjee’s demand and could have triggered a split.
But wary of Banerjee, Congress has chosen to keep up the pressure by fielding its candidate Abdul Mannan for Rajya Sabha election. It has 43 MLAs, just seven short, to ensure victory for its nominee, while Trinamool is 15 MLAs short to push through its fourth candidate. However, Banerjee has been insisting on fielding the fourth candidate and wanted Congress to stay out. Sources said the party is keen to convey that it would not want to be bulldozed any more and Samajwadi Party’s option was for real.
The TMC-Congress standoff over rail budget had put national politics in a state of flux. Congress, faced with repeated veto from TMC on critical issues like Teesta water treaty and FDI in retail, has been thinking of swapping the Bengal ally with SP. However, the party has decided that it was not the time to rejig the constitution of UPA.
While SP is a favourite with Congress for any emergency, the party had planned to take the UP outfit in UPA based on its pre-poll calculations that it would help Mulayam Singh Yadav with the shortfall in its tally to help him form the government in Lucknow. The mutual dependence would have checked any brinkmanship on the part of Samajwadis. However, SP’s landslide seems to have forced Congress to reassess its calculations. Pushing out TMC would be a serious decision which, sources said, are not taken without the alternative already in place.