The possibility of reconciliation between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress looked remote on Wednesday, 24 hours after a mercurial Mamata Banerjee withdrew her party’s support to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, both parties stuck to their positions. Unmoved by Ms. Banerjee’s strident attack on it, in a second televised press conference, the Congress, instead, focused its energies on mustering the numbers to survive a no-confidence motion, in case the Opposition acts on its threat.
The message from the Congress core group, which met for two hours on Wednesday morning, was that the West Bengal Chief Minister was not to be humoured any more, though the lines of communication would remain open. If the Trinamool is prepared to hear the Congress out, Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told journalists, he would be ready to explain why the economic reforms had to be pushed through. However, the party was confident, a senior Congress functionary said, that it had the numbers to defeat a no-confidence motion; in case of an accident, it was even prepared to face an early election rather than give in to the Trinamool and the Opposition’s demands for a rollback of its recent decisions.
Indeed, sources in the Congress added that when the six Trinamool Ministers hand in their resignations to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday afternoon, the Congress’ two Cabinet ministers in the West Bengal government — Manas Bhuniya and Abu Hena — will also put in their papers. On Wednesday, Mr. Bhuniya and Mr. Hena took the first step by boycotting a Cabinet meeting called by Ms. Banerjee in Kolkata.
In Delhi, the day began with a meeting of the Congress core group at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s residence at 10 a.m. The Congress leaders — including Dr. Singh, Ministers A.K. Antony and Mr. Chidambaram, president Sonia Gandhi and her political secretary Ahmed Patel — discussed the ramifications of Ms. Banerjee’s announcement, whether any concessions were possible and how the party should marshal its forces in case the Opposition moved a no-confidence motion.
Shortly after the core group dispersed around noon, Congress media chairperson Janardan Dwivedi told journalists that Ms. Gandhi had directed all Congress Chief Ministers to raise the cap on annual subsidised LPG cylinders for households from six to nine. What remained unspoken was that the other State governments could follow suit.
Mr. Dwivedi also stressed that after Ms. Banerjee made her announcement on Tuesday night, she sent a message to Ms. Gandhi saying that she would like to speak to her. However, when Ms. Gandhi called back, “communication could not be established.”
Efforts were also made from the Prime Minister’s Office to talk to Ms. Banerjee but “no communication has been established so far,” he said.
Thereafter, the Group of Ministers on media, headed by Mr. Chidambaram, met. Those present included Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and Minister of State in the PMO V. Narayanswamy