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All eyes on Mamata as Trinamool hardens stand

Vidya Subrahmaniam
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It was ‘wait and watch’ for most parties on Wednesday as the Congress-led UPA government and the Trinamool Congress hardened their opposing stands on the recent slew of economic announcements. Twenty-four hours after Mamata Banerjee dramatically pulled out of the ruling alliance, pushing the Manmohan Singh government into an existential crisis, it was clear that a final picture on party positions would emerge only after Friday — the day set by the West Bengal Chief Minister for her Ministers to resign from the Union government.

Wednesday was nonetheless a busy political day with conflicting messages and statements flooding the newsrooms of TV channels which made the most of the seemingly fast-paced developments. The excitement was all the more in view of the large response expected for Thursday bandh, called separately by the Bharatiya Janata Party and eight other parties, including the Left and the Samajwadi Party. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam announced from Chennai that it would join the protests but with the qualification that this did not indicate it would go the Mamata way. Ms. Banerjee herself seemed totally uninterested in the bandh, saying she did not believe in “bandh politics.”

The government categorically ruled out any rollback of its decisions on diesel price hike, a ceiling on LPG cylinders and FDI in multibrand retail — a stand endorsed equally aggressively by the Congress. For her part, Ms. Banerjee was firm that she would not relent on her decision unless the government withdrew the measures. With the prospects of a rapprochement fading rapidly, crucial UPA allies like the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party found themselves in a quandary. SP chief Mulayam Singh said in the morning that his party would finalise its stand — on whether or not to continue support to the UPA — at a meeting of its parliamentary party scheduled for Thursday. Later an SP spokesperson said no meeting had been convened and the party’s immediate focus was the bandh. He also clarified that the SP would take a position independent of the Trinamool. The BSP was non-committal, saying it would decide on its future course after a meeting of its national executive on October 10.

Nitish’s condition

In the middle of these back and forth statements came a cryptic comment from Nitish Kumar. The Bihar Chief Minister said he would support any party that agreed to give his State a special status, leading to speculation that in a crunch he would bail out the government provided he was rewarded for it. But the implications of this were huge: Would he break with the BJP to get a Bihar package?

The BJP and the Left expressed clearly articulated positions on the economic measures but seemed unsure of how to take the opposition to the next level. Officially, the BJP was combative with party spokesman Prakash Javadekar announcing that L.K. Advani wanted a special session of Parliament convened in view of the government being reduced to a minority. Yet insiders were doubtful of the party pursuing this line without any guarantee that it can muster the numbers required to defeat the government. Though strident in its opposition to the reforms, the Left appeared in a dilemma over what stand it should take in the House. Without elaborating on the CPI(M)’s plans, general secretary Prakash Karat said the government would lose its right to continue if it did not roll back the anti-people measures.

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