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Ma, mati, mystery

columns Updated: Mar 17, 2012 21:45 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Railway Budget

A visit to the crime scene should immediately tell you that this isn't your usual crime of passion. The incident does involve a hysterical woman who makes threats the way some of us react when stomped on our toes. There is indeed a quiet man in the middle of things who could easily double as the chief steward of the Delhi Gymkhana or the Calcutta Club. And yes, there is a shadowy but powerful group in the picture that makes the Cosa Nostra's ability to withstand pressures and crackdowns seem a matter of luck in comparison. But there is more to the Mystery of the Railway Budget than meets the eye.

CCTV records show railway minister and Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi make a speech in Parliament on Wednesday. In his speech, the minister with the quietest pair of eyes in the Union Cabinet announced a railway fare hike across the board. He pointed out that such a move, however difficult it may be politically, was necessary to take the Indian Railways "out of the ICU". No documentary evidence is there to show how the previous railway minister, Mamata Banerjee, reacted to Trivedi's subtle criticism that his party boss and predecessor at Rail Bhavan simply fluffed up the patient's pillows in the ICU and whispered into its ears about a happy 'pro-peepol' afterlife. One could assume that Banerjee is a suspect in the case.

But could she be the victim?

Which is where some investigations into the Congress party's reactions to the Trinamool Congress' very vocal shenanigans can reveal more. Banerjee has been the kind of family member in the UPA who one can only be handled by grinding one's teeth and letting out a weak smile (a combination of muscle movements that's actually well suited to the PM's Sona Lisa demeanour).

She had nixed the government's plans to open up FDI in retail. Her super-sulk made India (which West Bengal is still a part of) shelve a landmark river water-sharing agreement with Bangladesh. (Although Sachin's 100th century in Dhaka may just correct that.) Banerjee teamed up with rival non-UPA chief ministers to throw a spanner in the Centre's plan to set up a National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC). Short of wanting to shoot one of her party's MPs for serving as a central minister who reports to the PM, she had done pretty much everything in the book to see how much she could poke a wounded bear with her hairpins before it starts to growl. And then on Wednesday, upon hearing the gist of Trivedi's Budget speech, she did want to shoot one of her party's MPs for serving as a central minister who reports to the PM.

And so, we have a motive for the Congress: how to lose a friend and revive one's influence without the embarrassing bit of the neighbours seeing this friend being thrown out. One reconstruction by investigators suggests that Trivedi was sat down and talked to by a Sikh gentleman with a posh accent (who isn't the prime minister) and a Bengali with a Bengali accent (who will never be the prime minister). They told him that it was time for him, a one-man sleeper cell within a key non-Congress UPA party, to be activated and 'serve the nation'. And thus, Trivedi the patriot got the go-ahead to self-destruct for a cause higher than party or pelf.

That two senior Congressmen, Motilal Vora and Pawan Kumar Bansal, attended the coronation of Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow — the same ceremony that the PM requested Banerjee not to attend — points to the UPA's keenness on getting new Samajwadi Party guests at the dinner table in Delhi. But to get people in at a fine-dining restaurant you need to vacate some seats. Which is where Trivedi, in true 'The butler did it!' style, announced his 'anti-peepol' Railway Budget.

The question now is whether Banerjee, with dessert yet to be served, is going to fall for this cunning plan and storm out of the restaurant with her partymen in tow? Or will she keep sitting at the table even as she loudly complains about the food and wants the chef's head to be brought to her on a plate?

This explanation, of course, seems unlikely. But as a fellow detective friend of mine tells me each time he's injected a 7% solution of cocaine to stimulate his brain, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." So the solution to the Mystery of the Railway Budget indeed becomes alimentary, my dear canal.