A day ahead of the Trinamool Congress meeting in Kolkata, a newly-energised United Progressive Alliance (UPA) appeared confident that the 19 MP-strong party would not pull out from the government. The worst the Congress anticipates, a party functionary said, is that West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee may withdraw her six Ministers at the Centre. He, however, added that talks were on with the Trinamool to avert that as well.
Unlike last year, when Ms. Banerjee’s threat to leave the UPA forced the government to suspend its plans to allow FDI in multibrand retail, this time, the Manmohan Singh government is in no mood for compromise. Neither is the Congress. For, even as Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told a group of journalists on Monday that there would be no roll-back on any of the recent economic decisions, Congress functionaries, too, endorsed the government’s tough line.
The only point on which the Congress differs with its government is on limiting the number of LPG cylinders to six per household at the current price. Congress sources said the government had been told that the figure of six needs to be increased to eight to 10. Indeed, on Monday, the Sheila Dikshit government showed the way by announcing that in Delhi, each household would be entitled to nine subsidised LPG cylinders annually.
“The government is in dialogue with all its allies: it’s an ongoing conversation,” Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury told journalists when asked about the objections that both the Trinamool and the DMK had raised to the Centre’s decision to allow FDI in multibrand retail. “We understand their compulsions and trepidations,” she said. Earlier, Mr. Chidambaram too said: “We will convince our allies that what we have done is necessary ... there is no threat to the government.”
Thus far, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary Ahmed Patel has been in touch with Ms. Banerjee: Congress sources said if there was a breakthrough, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh might speak to her.
The Congress’ confidence, the party sources added, springs from the fact that the Trinamool’s options are limited; besides, the two parties supporting it from outside — the 22 MP-strong Samajwadi Party and the 21-MP Bahujan Samaj Party — have indicated that they will continue to back the government, if not its policies.