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Updated: March 22, 2012 00:30 IST

I did what any Railway Minister should have done, says Trivedi

Smita Gupta
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Dinesh Trivedi
The Hindu
Dinesh Trivedi

He alternates between candour and discreetness

“The impression that the Congress was trying to use me is wrong and baseless,” says Dinesh Trivedi, gesturing, “Honest to God, there was no move from the Congress.”

The former Railway Minister is responding to a question on speculation surrounding the future of the Trinamool Congress — that after his throwing a challenge to the leadership on the issue of raising rail fares, it is steadily moving towards breaking point. “Nobody is interested in breaking the party,” he told The Hindu in the course of an interview, stressing, “No individual can break a party. At the end of the day, a party is made or broken by the people. It is the people's will that gets reflected …”

On a day when the Railway budget is being discussed in Parliament, Mr. Trivedi, who was Railway Minister till Monday, casually dressed in a sky blue tracksuit, is lounging at his official residence, just off the fashionable Khan Market. The heady afterglow of the adulation that followed his defiance of his party leader, Mamata Banerjee, and the back-to-back TV interviews he gave over the last week, stressing that the interests of the country trumped those of the Trinamool, has faded. He is distracted, and on edge, as he watches TV grabs of scenes in Parliament: “Has the rail budget been passed?” he keeps asking.

So was Ms. Banerjee aware that he intended raising passenger fares?

“I had mentioned it to some senior bureaucrat and I have no reason to believe it was not conveyed to her,” he answers, adding, “The whole world knew that passenger fares and freight rates were being hiked. I had also made public pronouncements to that effect.”

What did Ms. Banerjee gain by opposing the hike in passenger fares, especially as it was widely welcomed?

This time, he is discreet: “You will have to ask her.”

On relations between the Congress and the Trinamool, his answer is similar: “I think Mamata Banerjee is in a better position to answer that.”

As Cabinet Minister, had he ever felt that there was a better way for the Congress and its allies to deal with each other? The answer is deadpan again: “I used to carry out what my leader wanted me to say in the Cabinet. It was totally on party lines.”

Given that the West Bengal Chief Minister controls her party with an iron hand, what possessed Mr. Trivedi to adopt a heroic posture on the passenger fares issue? “I did what any Railway Minister should have done: it was the natural, logical, professional thing to do. It was not heroic. Whatever I did was for the country, not for my party or region,” he repeats what he has said on the TV channels. And then he adds, “I am yet to see any person complaining about the fare hike.”

Mr. Trivedi then explains the rationale for the fare rise. “I did what I did based on the pattern of travel so as to give relief to the common man who,” he says, “by and large, travels within his own State, and rarely [undertakes] long distance travel. As for the poorest of the poor, they never travel, not because of the fares but because they can't pay the other expenses.” To cater for this section, he made suburban rail travel cheaper: “Now you can travel 150 km at a cost that earlier entitled you to travel [only] 100 km,” he underscores.

By turns, Mr. Trivedi veers between calibrated candour and occasional circumspection. Asked why the 11-month-old Trinamool government has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, he deadpans: “Anywhere in the country, if one does not deliver, the same people who carried you on their shoulders will drop you. Delivery is more important than promises once you are in power.” And to a question whether the Centre is being unfair to West Bengal, refusing to rescue it from the debt trap it is in until it shows some initiative, he answers briskly, “The same was the case with the Railways: I needed to raise fares and freight charges, otherwise where was the money to come from? No one helps you unless you help yourself: West Bengal needs to find a solution to its own financial problems.”

But to a question whether the consultation process on the three issues — sharing of river waters with Bangladesh, FDI in retail and the National Counter Terrorism Centre — on which the Congress and the Trinamool differed was faulty, the veil drops: “I should not comment on any leader's situation.” Persist and ask Mr. Trivedi how he thinks the Teesta waters issue should be dealt with: “Any problem can be solved if it is not personalised. The Central government must take the initiative and take the region into confidence.”

His view on FDI in retail? “There is need for a broader consensus by getting the stakeholders involved. Anything that promotes economic growth and jobs without taking away employment should be encouraged.” And NCTC? “This need not be politicised as it concerns security: neither side should make it a prestige issue.”

And what would he have done on the Singur (the site of one of the anti-land acquisition agitations that brought the Trinamool to power) issue? “I would have straightaway had a dialogue with Mr. Ratan Tata [who sought to set up a Nano car plant in West Bengal] without holding on to any prestige. I would have said let's sort out the issue for the benefit of the people. Let's create a win-win situation — it would have sent a tremendous current to the entire industry.”

How does he see his own future? “Bright,” he responds. “In the Trinamool?” “My future is with this country,” says Mr. Trivedi, in statesman-mode again.

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This is the worst to have happened in a democratic country like India.
State parties should have a say but ousting a minister on such demands
without any consideration is certainly a wrong step. Let's see what the
government is up to.

from:  Vani
Posted on: Mar 22, 2012 at 20:05 IST

Smita ji, Timely and very good interviews. Last 2 Questions and answers
(How does he see his own future? “Bright,” he responds. “In the
Trinamool?” “My future is with this country,” says Mr. Trivedi, in
statesman-mode again) says so many things!!!

from:  divyesh vyas
Posted on: Mar 22, 2012 at 19:40 IST

The budget presented by Dineshji will always remain more welcome compared to the artificial dressing made by Mamata & her obidient Mukul Roy. Mr. Trivedi, an educated, practical and mature person had evidently done a very thoughful job on the budget. While going by the need of the hour he was also absolutely considerate to the fact that it did not hurt the masses to travel by the National Surafce carrier. Dineshji's outlook had been very progressive & optimistic which is in sharp contrast to the rumbling Mamata who has all sound & no sense. Now Mamata has set the stage perfectly to ring alarm bell of the Indian Rlys to be perfectly orchestrated by the Rly minister of her choice. Mukul Roy will do a perfect job for that given his capability, credential, his past background etc.etc..

from:  Jayanta Tarafdar
Posted on: Mar 22, 2012 at 16:43 IST

Dear Mr Trivedi, you are a prey of Trinamool supremo’s bid to get political mileage out of every issue. She might realise that the chief minister’s post is not easy as that of the opposition leader. She is trying to divert peoples’ attention from real issues. To be in Trinamool, like everyone you should also dance to her tune.Now the bus fare in most of the states is two to four times that of the rail fare. I think it is better to fix rail fare, at least for the passenger trains on regional basis.

from:  Rajesh Poomangalam
Posted on: Mar 22, 2012 at 15:32 IST

This is the reason why the state like Bengal are bankrupts giving away
the freebies every time and at last asking for the bailout package .Very
rightly said if bengal cannot help itself than no one will and i think
seeing the current scenario the situation will worsens .

from:  tanmay
Posted on: Mar 22, 2012 at 10:01 IST

To succeed in WB politics, you have to keep costs artificially low. Decades of communists rule in the state has made people resist any price rise. In order to please these voters, state has to bear all the burden but keep the upfront price low and that way increase probability of getting elected in next elections.
This is just one example where all of the states could have been fine otherwise, but due to coalition politics, the say of one state trumped every other state of India. It really doesn't sound too democratic.

from:  Sahil
Posted on: Mar 22, 2012 at 07:01 IST

It's unfortunate that honest and good thinking person like Mr.Trivedi was forced to resign without any reason. This incident shows how difficult it is for good people to survive in Indian politics. Mamata Banerjee should tell the people why she asked him to reason. After all the rail fare was increased very very minimally and it was only for the benefit of Indian railways and it's people.

from:  Savanur
Posted on: Mar 22, 2012 at 02:01 IST
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