Mamata Banerjee will do anything to enhance her political image, even if this means humiliating her senior colleagues in the Trinamool Congress (TMC). By obtaining the resignation of Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi, the West Bengal Chief Minister is hoping to project herself as the sole champion of the poor, as someone who is able to push and prod the UPA government at the Centre into working for the greater common good. Mr. Trivedi was obviously taken aback by the developments; if Ms Banerjee had only indicated what her red lines were for the Railway budget, he would have presumably found a way to oblige her. But what Ms Banerjee wanted was not a Railway budget she could praise, but one she could first criticise and then re-mould into her very own people-friendly variant. More important than not raising passenger fares was making certain that the fares, once raised, were lowered at her insistence. For the UPA government, the problem is not the exit of Mr. Trivedi, not even a reworking of the railway budget with all the attendant difficulties. What must be worrying the Congress and the rest of the UPA is the political cost of the never-ending pressure from the TMC. Whether it is the issue of foreign direct investment in retail, or the creation of Lokayuktas, or the Pension Bill, or a hike in the price of petroleum products, Ms Banerjee manages to make the Manmohan Singh government stop or pause or rewind. Each time, as she maximises her political mileage, the Congress ends up looking a clueless pivot of a rudderless government.
If Ms Banerjee continues with her tantrums, the Congress, sooner or later, might come to believe there is no future in an alliance with the Trinamool. Even in West Bengal, the TMC has been gaining over the years at the expense of the Congress. That the two parties failed to reach an agreement for the current round of Rajya Sabha elections might not hold long-term significance in itself. But given their fractious relationship, any political development could serve as the trigger for a major upheaval. While there is no immediate danger of the UPA government being voted out in the event of a break-up with the Trinamool, the Congress can at best have a hand-to-mouth existence for the rest of the tenure of the current Lok Sabha. The moment Trinamool withdraws support, others inside and outside the alliance will begin to exercise their leverage. As its options decrease, the Congress can only decide at whose mercy it should be in the months ahead. But no matter what, the UPA is unlikely to be able to set the governance agenda for the remainder of its term.