Managing a coalition is a difficult process at the best of times. But after the initial teething troubles, most coalition allies agree to disagree at worst and pull along with each other at best. The Trinamool Congress has proved an exception with its constant demands for rollbacks and policy reversals. But while the government was earlier in a mood to mollify the Trinamool’s mercurial leader Mamata Banerjee, it may at best give in an inch here or there this time. The main reason, of course, is that the UPA 2 has enough support to make up the numbers to survive the exit of the Trinamool if all goes well. So, in effect, by pulling out of the government, Ms Banerjee has given up portfolios like the railways, which have the potential to generate at least some of the jobs that West Bengal so desperately needs.
Ms Banerjee’s adamant opposition to foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail is puzzling given that not too many are queuing up at West Bengal’s doorstep eager to invest there and, in any event, this is a decision which the state government can take. Many of the problems which existed during the lengthy years of Left rule are still there. It was expected that with the rise of Ms Banerjee, at least some of the chronic labour problems would be set right. But the same enervating work culture that has kept West Bengal lagging behind other states still prevails. When she took over, initially, Ms Banerjee made a bit of a splash with her impromptu visits to some of the state’s shoddy hospitals. In her firebrand way, she imm-ediately pulled up the administrations and promised action. That fizzled out soon enough. Then there was the almost comical problem of imagining a Maoist plot in everything. This included spotting Maoist tendencies in a hapless farmer who tried to speak up at a rally she was holding. A number of atrocities on women were dismissed as Maoist plots to discredit her government. After getting her own man, Mukul Roy, into the railway ministry, his performance has been seen as lacklustre and it is rumoured that even the PM was unhappy at the number of cabinet meetings he skipped. All Ms Banerjee’s fire and brimstone has also meant that much needed railway reforms have been consigned to the backburner.
With the latest pullout, Ms Banerjee is doing what she has done many times in the past, engaging in political brinkmanship with the coalitions she has joined. It’s a somewhat dubious distinction that she has never completed a term in any government as an ally. What many people would like to know is whether Ms Banerjee has a gameplan either for her ministers or for the state. Or is she just being obstructionist for the sake of it? In the latest fracas with the government, it would appear that she will come off worse for the wear. Pulling out her ministers is her ultimate trump card, following which she will not be able to produce any more aces from up her sleeve.