The five-day-long Trinamool Congress drama over the passenger fare hike announced in the Railway budget finally ended on Monday: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh forwarded Dinesh Trivedi's resignation as Railway Minister to President Pratibha Patil, and then met West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee later in the day, agreeing to her demand that Minister of State for Shipping Mukul Roy replace Mr. Trivedi.
Mr. Roy, Rashtrapati Bhavan sources confirmed, will be sworn in as a Cabinet Minister at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. And the debate on the rail budget that had been listed for Monday has been postponed by a day, presumably to allow the new Minister to sit through the discussion as he will have to respond to it. Congress sources added that there could be “a partial rollback to the hike in passenger fares” announced in the Railway budget on March 14 by Mr. Trivedi.
In the afternoon, there was a flurry of top-level meetings after Ms. Banerjee arrived at Parliament House: she had separate meetings with the Prime Minister and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, before settling down in Central Hall. When she met the Prime Minister, the West Bengal Chief Minister was accompanied by Mr. Roy and Trinamool leader in the Lok Sabha Sudip Bandopadhyay. According to one account, Ms. Banerjee touched Dr. Singh's feet, sought his blessings and assured him of her party's support. Political sources say she is feeling quite vulnerable: the finances of her State are in a bad way, the Bengal media is now no longer as adulatory and the Congress unit in the State is distinctly hostile: the Congress action in fielding its own candidate, Abdul Mannan, for a Rajya Sabha seat will make it difficult for the Trinamool to get its fourth candidate in.
Meanwhile, a sense of emerging political alignments came through after the Prime Minister's reply to the President's address in the Lok Sabha: while the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) appeared satisfied with the Prime Minister's response on the Sri Lanka issue that had been agitating the party and voted with the government, the Trinamool was clearly unhappy with his position on the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC).
After the voice vote, when the Bharatiya Janata Party demanded division in the House, the Trinamool MPs — as well as those from the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) — walked out. Ms. Banerjee later told journalists that it was “not a walkout,” it was just abstention, as the party remained with the government, even though it disagreed with it on the NCTC issue: she described NCTC as worse than POTA and TADA. Later, when Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi was asked about his party's current relations with the Trinamool, he repeated: “The Trinamool has clarified that it was neither a boycott nor a walkout. While the party may or may not agree with us on a policy issue, it does not wish to be seen as disagreeing with the government.”
Interestingly, the Samajwadi Party withdrew its amendment to the President's address and voted with the government. But whether the party's gesture on Monday will grow into a closer relationship still remains uncertain. SP supremo Mulayam Singh at a press conference in Lucknow on Monday, responding to a question on the subject, said, “The Congress is running a coalition government at the Centre. We are backing it. The Congress has not invited us to join the government, neither have we asked for it.” Asked to interpret that, Congress sources said, “Talks are on — they will take time. Will Mulayam Singh become a Cabinet Minister, what will we get? These are not matters decided by individuals, but the high commands of the two parties.”
Congress sources also indicated that Monday's denouement may not be the last of the Trinamool saga: a ginger group has sprung up in that party and its members are pleased neither with the way the party is being run nor with Mr. Roy's elevation.