Mamata Banerjee opened yet another episode of chaos for the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) — this time publicly disowning and eventually sacking Dinesh Trivedi, her successor and appointee as railway minister, for ignoring her diktat on the budget.
Trinamool Congress chief Banerjee and party leaders trashed the budget, demanding rolling back of hikes in passenger fares. By evening, Banerjee had already written to the Prime Minister asking Trivedi to be replaced by Mukul Roy, currently minister of state for shipping.
In coalitions, respective parties nominate their ministers to the Cabinet. But there have been instances of the PM turning down some names. Roy’s was one, when Mamata suggested him as railway minister when she moved to West Bengal in 2011.
Immediately after Mamata struck out Trivedi and came up with Roy’s name, the Congress core committee went into a huddle to decide on the next step. But a senior Congress leader said that a final decision would be taken only after the budget.
The possibility of rolling back the hike in lower classes and suburban train journey — a sensitive issue in Kolkota — may still be alive, but the rupture between Mamata and her erstwhile loyalist seems to be permanent. “I have done my job. The rest is in the hands of God,” Trivedi said.
Trivedi had brushed aside Banerjee’s objections while announcing the hikes.
He has been working closely with the Prime Minister —who termed Trivedi’s budget “positive” — planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, technocrat Sam Pitroda and others in the Congress leadership, much to the annoyance of Banerjee.
Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, too, had leaned on the rail ministry to rationalise its fare structure, left untouched by Banerjee and Lalu Prasad in the last eight budgets. But what made Trivedi ignore his party boss’ diktat, according to a source familiar with the development, was the awareness that his days in the Trinamool were numbered.
“He wanted to fight it out,” the source said, “rather than being walked over.” Sources close to Banerjee said Trivedi had “played into the hands of the Congress”.
Though Congress sources denied having struck any deal with Trivedi, his increasing proximity to the party proportionately increased his distance from his boss, who initially tried to take control of the railway budget, but was kept away by Trivedi.
Last month, she even accused Trivedi of being a “Congress agent" in a party meeting. The tension pulled them apart so far and so fast that for the last fortnight or so, they had not been on talking terms, said sources. “The railway minister did not even keep his personal belongings in the office, always preparing himself to leave the job.”
Meanwhile, the TMC is organising a protest outside Parliament on Thursday against the government, demanding a special package for West Bengal. For the record, the Congress said the railway budget issue would be “sorted out without any threat to the government”, but the latest tantrum by Banerjee convinced a section in the party that a split with her was unavoidable.
The Congress has already managed to strike an equation with Samajwadi Party chieftain Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has 22 MPs and can easily replace the TMC’s 18 members in the Lok Sabha. During the UPA-1 regime, it was Mulayam who rescued the government after the Left pulled the plug on it.
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