Railway minister Mukul Roy’s response to the budget debate may have heavily depended on directions given by party chief Mamata Banerjee, but the final twist in Roy’s scripted reply—a development project for Odisha’s backward Kalahandi region— came from Congress president Sonia Gandhi.
Barely 10 minutes before Roy was scheduled to reply in Lok Sabha on Thursday, Gandhi and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee called Trinamool Congress parliamentary party chief Sudip Bandopadhyay, and requested an announcement from Roy for a railway wagon factory at Kalahandi region.
Gandhi even insisted that Bandopadhyay hand over a written proposal to Roy.
Even as Bandopahyay politely told the UPA chairperson that he was aware of the problems in Kalahandi, Gandhi told him, “Please mention it is a backward region.”
With time running out, Bandopadhyay rushed to meet Roy in his chamber at the Parliament house.
Though the Trinamool leadership couldn’t contact Banerjee immediately, Roy decided to honour Gandhi’s request and announced in the House that if land was available, the Railways would build a wagon factory in the Kalahandi region.
The announcement was met with enthusiastic thumping of desks not only from Gandhi but also BJD MPs, sitting on opposition benches.
BJD’s Bhartruhari Mahtab, a close lieutenant of Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik, pointed out that a wagon project has already been announced for Ganjam district.
Political observers saw the incident as yet another instance of the Congress and Trinamool mending fences.
Besides stalling key government initiatives such as FDI in retail, the National Counter-Terror Centre (NCTC) and the Pension Fund Bill, Banerjee
had even ensured railway minister Dinesh Trivedi’s removal against the wishes of the Congress brass.
Sources say this initiative for the BJD-ruled Odisha — coming directly from Congress chief Sonia Gandhi — may help the party send a larger political signal to the opposition camp.