It took three years and four months of stressful brinkmanship and the UPA’s renewed thrust on reforms to finally snap her patience on Tuesday evening.
Mamata Banerjee, chief of the second largest UPA constituent, the Trinamool Congress, finally left the coalition government in a huff. The reason: The UPA’s “anti-people” policies (read: FDI in retail business, diesel price hike and capping of subsidised cooking gas cylinders).
But this was an eventuality that Congress strategists had already accounted for, though never actually expected to happen. The party ruled out any threat to the survival of the government after TMC’s exit, but the sudden change in coalition dynamics put the thrust on economic reforms at risk.
After a three-hour marathon meeting at Kolkata’s Town Hall with her MPs, ministers and senior party leaders, a fuming Banerjee announced: “Initially, I did not want to withdraw support, but the consistent anti-people policies of the UPA forced me to take this step.”
She even went to the extent of alleging that the UPA had taken the reforms decisions in order to “suppress” the recent scams. “The FDIgate is a move to hide the Coalgate.”
Later in the evening, another UPA constituent, M Karunanidhi-led DMK, added to the Congress’ woes, joining the Opposition-sponsored strike on September 20 in protest against the FDI in retail and diesel price hike. It also announced that all its options were open.
Banerjee, interestingly, left a window open, saying railway minister Mukul Roy and the five other ministers of state would submit their resignations to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday.
Asked if there was any chance of reconsidering the decision, she replied, “Only if the FDI decision is withdrawn, diesel price is reduced by R3 or R4 and subsidies are given for LPG.”
The Congress was quick to grab the opening. “We still consider Trinamool Congress our valuable ally…Mamataji has raised some issues…we are going to discuss those with the government,” party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said.
There are also indications that the Congress is expected to reach out to Banerjee after party president Sonia Gandhi talks to the Prime Minister.
Banerjee said she had spoken to Gandhi four days ago and informed her about her likely decision after the 72-hour deadline ended.
Immediately after the ultimatum was issued, the Congress initiated back-channel negotiations, but did not offer anything substantive to her. Banerjee said, “Probably, she (Gandhi) couldn't do anything.However, my decision to leave the UPA will not affect our relationship."
The Congress was confident that Banerjee would at the most pull out her ministers. Party leaders had argued that she would not take any step to destabilise the government and be seen siding with the BJP given that her state had a 30% Muslim population.
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