Congress president Sonia Gandhi held consultations with party leaders as the 72-hour deadline set by Trinamool Congress for rollback of diesel price hike, LPG subsidy cap and FDI in retail ended on Monday amid indications a worst case situation could be a pull out of union ministers by the key ally.
As finance minister P Chidamabram ruled out a rollback, his ministerial colleague Ambika Soni expressed confidence that the Trinamool will not do anything to "jeopardise" the stability of the UPA. Congress also said "negotiations" were going on but did not elaborate.
On the eve of the Trinamool's Parliamentary meeting in Kolkata, party leader and Union minister Sultan Ahmed listed three options, including withdrawal of support to the Manmohan Singh government.
"There could be pullout of the ministers from UPA, there could be withdrawal of support from the government or ministers will not attend office," Union minister of state for Tourism Sultan Ahmed said in Kolkata.
Sonia had a strategy session with Union ministers AK Antony, P Chidambaram, Sushilkumar Shinde, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Vayalar Ravi and her political secretary Ahmed Patel with no signs of worry in the Congress camp over fresh pressure mounted by the West Bengal chief minister.
"Negotiations are going on...we do believe that we will be able to have a working relationship. We remain optimistic," party spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary told reporters at the AICC briefing in Delhi..
Asked whether Congress is confident that all its allies including Trinamool will remain in UPA government in future as well, she said, "we will always be hopeful of all our allies' continuance. Our doors are never closed for dialogue".
Soni exuded confidence that the UPA will not do anything to rock the UPA boat.
"After the parliamentary party meeting(of Trinamool), I am confident that they will not do anything that will jeopardise the UPA," she said.
The Trinamool has one cabinet minister, Mukul Roy and five ministers of state, Sudip Bandhopadhay, Sougata Roy, Sultan Ahmed, Sisir Adhikary and C M Jatua.
The party is the second largest constituent of the UPA with 19 MPs.
With Banerjee set to have a meeting with her party leaders in Kolkata tomorrow, Gandhi had a strategy session with union ministers AK Antony, P Chidambaram, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Vayalar Ravi and Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel.
"Negotiations are going on, we do believe that we will be able to have a working relationship. We remain optimistic," party spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary told reporters at the AICC briefing.
Asked whether the Congress is confident that all its allies, including Trinamool Congress, will remain in the UPA government in future as well, she said, "We will always be hopeful for all our allies' continuance. Our doors are never closed for dialogue."
Chowdhary at the same time made it clear that this cannot be a one-way understanding saying, "While we understand their limitations and compulsions, they should also understand our limitations and compulsions."
Sidestepping questions on whether there could be a partial roll back of diesel prices and modifications in the LPG cap, she said there was no compromise on the principles to take the country ahead.
"I am not the government. We have not said that there is no compromise. What I have said is that there is no compromise on our principles to serve the nation. On this, we will sacrifice our head but not bend," she said, refusing to go into the specifics of what is being negotiated with TMC.
Her comments came close on the heels of Trinamool Congress listing three options before it, including withdrawal of support to the UPA, pullout of ministers from the government and ministers not attending office.
The Congress spokesperson declined to draw parallels between the current situation with the Indo-US nuclear deal scenario in 2008 when the UPA government survived the trust vote with the help of the Samajwadi Party (SP) after Left had withdrawn it's support from it.
"We would not like to draw parallels between difficult situations because there is no one size formulae that fits all. Each situation has to be dealt differently. At present, there is no threat and we want to work like that," she said while strongly defending FDI.
"We are with the people. We know what benefits will come to the people through FDI. Your understanding of poverty is poor," was the sharp response of Chowdhary when told that FDI in multi-brand retial could affect the poor street vendors and small businessmen.
Finance minister P Chidambaram, who attended the strategy meeting called by Gandhi, earlier ruled out rolling back decisions on diesel, LPG and FDI in retail and expressed confidence that the government faces no threat from allies either inside or outside.
Meanwhile, Chowdhary downplayed questions on whether the Congress had a contingency plan to bail out the government in case Trinamool Congress withdraws the support.
"We are hoping that we do not need to look at that. But yes, the managers of the party and the political business will be working over time on all options — Plan A, Plan B and onwards. The government is stable," she said expressing the hope that TMC will continue to support the government.
Chowdhary denied suggestions that Congress could advise the government to offer a face-saver to allies and said, "I don't know that they need face saving. We want to talk to them and a solution is what is comfortable to both. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not want to talk to anybody."