West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's assertion, within hours of Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi announcing fare increase in his rail budget speech on Wednesday, that “we will not allow this hike” has proved yet again that when one is in the Trinamool Congress, one should do what she asks one to do.
Speculation of a possible rollback or even Mr. Trivedi's resignation over the issue continued through the day, but this is not the first occasion that a senior Trinamool leader has drawn Ms. Banerjee's ire for expressing a contrarian view.
For someone who is known to call the shots on all matters, most observers find it difficult to believe Ms. Banerjee's claim that she was not aware of the proposed hike, though Mr. Trivedi concurred with her at least on this count.
Whether or not Ms. Banerjee was informed of the fare hike before it was announced, Mr. Trivedi's comment that his efforts were directed at “pulling out Indian Railways from the ICU” can only be perceived as an attack on the performance of his predecessor, Ms. Banerjee herself.
That everything in the Trinamool revolves around Ms. Banerjee was evident even in Leader of the Parliamentary Party Sudip Bandopadhyay's criticism of his colleague's decision on fare hike.
Mr. Bandopadhyay's emphasis that “Mamata Banerjee is the closest ally of the poor” while arguing the party line on the matter is quite reminiscent of a recent observation by Surya Kanta Mishra, Leader of the Opposition in the West Bengal Assembly, on the ways of the Trinamool leadership.
“This is a one-person government…Others are immaterial as they do not know when their wings will be clipped,” Dr. Mishra said.
The Sword of Damocles seems to be hanging over every leader of the Trinamool and the attitude of toeing the line Ms. Banerjee has taken is reflected within the rank and file. But what awaits Sultan Ahmed, Union Minister of State for Tourism, for having initially endorsed the fare hike as “necessary” is open to question.
State Education Minister Bratya Basu has already faced the music for his remark that “just as one has the right to work [when a strike is called], one also has the right not to come to work” in contradiction of Ms. Banerjee's diktat that all employees would have to report for duty on the day of the all-India strike called by 11 registered trade unions on February 28.
Anxious to avoid a similar gaffe, Partha Chatterjee, secretary-general, merely said “can all questions be answered” when he was quizzed by journalists on the Chief Minister's comments on the alleged rape of a 37-year-old woman. Ms. Banerjee claimed that the rape was “staged,” but she was proved wrong when the police made arrests in connection with the case.
Meanwhile, Trinamool MP Kabir Suman, infamous for his frequent remarks which are not in line with Ms. Banerjee's stated stand, has already been dismissed by her “as a guest of the party.”
While those within the party would never dare her, Ms. Banerjee's attitude has been described as “dictatorial” by representatives of the Congress in her Council of Ministers, which, they said, precipitated the resignation of Manoj Chakraborty.