Two days after the Congress Working Committee endorsed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s recent economic policy decisions, the government will try and seek a similar seal of approval from the United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) coordination committee — which is scheduled to meet here at 7, Race Course Road on Thursday morning — so that it can unitedly take on the Opposition.
However, the committee members have not yet been given any official agenda for the meeting, one UPA ally told The Hindu.
With the Trinamool Congress’ exit from the UPA, the government hopes to have a relatively easier ride, even though its other big ally, the 18-MP-strong Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) — whose representative T.R. Baalu will attend the meeting — also participated in last week’s Opposition-sponsored all-India bandh to protest against the Centre’s economic reforms.
Though the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) may have officially approved the government’s decisions, and its party supremo Sharad Pawar has repeatedly said that his party will continue to back the UPA, NCP members in Maharashtra have publicly said the diesel and LPG subsidy issues could have been dealt with differently. They have suggested that since diesel is used by farmers, factories as well as wealthy owners of SUVs — as the Prime Minister himself pointed out in his address to the nation — a heftier excise tax on luxury vehicles, while reducing the price of diesel, would do the trick.
On LPG, they have recommended that the number of subsidised LPG cylinders should depend on the income bracket as well as number of persons in any given household. With some Congress Chief Ministers, too, talking of making a distinction between Below Poverty Line (BPL) families and families above the poverty line on the issue of cooking gas, the subject may figure in the discussions.
The UPA meeting, the first since the Trinamool’s stormy departure, will also be held against the backdrop of the war between the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra that has threatened the stability of the Prithviraj Chavan-led coalition government there. The coordination committee was constituted to ensure cohesive functioning of the UPA, after the NCP raised the issue of lack of coordination in the ruling alliance.
Meanwhile, Congress president Sonia Gandhi called on the Prime Minister to greet him on his 80th birthday. She spent an hour talking to Dr. Singh, again raising speculation that the two leaders discussed the impending reshuffle-cum-expansion of the Union Council of Ministers.
If the Prime Minister was hoping that the exercise, among other things, would help him pull in the allies, that expectation may be belied. The Trinamool has exited, and a meeting on Tuesday in Chennai between MoS in the Prime Minister’s Office V. Narayanasamy and DMK supremo M. Karunanidhi on the subject yielded just one thing: the DMK is not keen on filling the ministerial berths that were held by A. Raja and Dayanidhi Maran who had to resign in the wake of the 2G scam.