A stunned Congress, riding high on the favourable response of the markets to its recent economic decisions, responded cautiously to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s announcement on Tuesday evening that her party’s Ministers will resign from the Union government on Friday, and that Trinamool Congress will no longer be in UPA-II. It seized on the fact that Ms. Banerjee has given the government 72 hours to slash the Rs. 5 hike in the price of diesel by a rupee, increase the number of annual subsidised LPG cylinders for every household from six to 12, and withdraw the decision to permit FDI in multi-brand retail.

Minutes after Ms. Banerjee made her dramatic declaration in Kolkata, Congress media chairperson Janardan Dwivedi told journalists: “The government will discuss these issues with her and then the final result will emerge.” He prefaced this by stressing, “We have always considered Mamataji our valued colleague and she will remain so, till we see the ultimate result.” The Congress, while prepared for the exit of the Trinamool Ministers, was taken aback at its ally’s decision to quit altogether.

But, if Mr Dwivedi’s statement — the “official” response — was carefully calibrated, the Congress was clearly angry. Party spokesperson Sandip Dikshit drew attention to the fact that the Trinamool’s ministerial representative “deftly” stayed away from all cabinet meetings where difficult decisions were taken, even as Trinamool accused the Congress of not taking its allies into confidence. Pointing out that the Congress had 205 MPs, senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar told a TV channel : “The tail could not be allowed to wave the dog”. Clearly, unlike numerous occasions in the past, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s reform measures have the party’s backing.

Nevertheless, Congress president Sonia Gandhi will make an effort to find a solution, sources in the party said, even as they stressed that the Prime Minister’s statement, that he is prepared to go down fighting, has resonated positively with the rank and file.

With the Trinamool’s exit, the UPA’s strength is reduced to 246 MPs, but with the outside support of the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the figure stands at 293, 20 more than a simple majority. The coalition’s managers say it can also muster another eight votes from the smaller parties that include the Janata Dal (Secular). This does not include the independents.

Of the parties that can bail out the Congress, the BSP said it will take a view at its national executive on October 9, while SP general secretary Ramgopal Yadav warned the Congress that it should not take the support of its allies for granted. Meanwhile, the Left parties, without commenting on Trinamool’s decision, said it would step up its agitation against the government’s decisions. CPI (M) general secretary Prakash Karat said: “We’ve no reaction except to say that we [will] intensify the struggle to cancel FDI in retail and other measures.” This view was echoed by Communist Party of India’s D Raja.

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