A divorce of little consequences
The Trinamool Congress’ withdrawal of support may reduce the UPA government to a minority but that doesn’t pose any threat to it so long as the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party continue their outside support, thereby keeping the numbers well above the half-way mark of 272. Both these parties have their own reasons to keep the UPA afloat for now and they have said so. Until the political scenario changes drastically, it is business as usual.
Nor does the withdrawal reduce the UPA’s manoeuvreability in terms of legislative or administrative decision making in any way. The Trinamool Congress has been more of an impediment, by stalling whatever measure the union government proposed to take to revive the economy – FDI in multi-brand retail and aviation, reforms in land acquisition process, rationalisation of railway fares or fuel price hike etc. In that sense, the severance of ties presents an opportunity by way of dissolution of internal resistance.
That said, what does the Trinamool Congress gain by taking such a step? That is not very clear, nor does it need to be. Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief, has no reputation of being rational or reasonable. She is better known for unpredictability and brink(wo)manship. She loves the thrill of living on the edge, constantly rewriting her relationships. Her independent journey began in 1998 when she broke her two-decade-long association with the Congress to launch the Trinamool Congress. The very next year, she joined the BJP-led coalition and became the railway minister in the NDA regime. A year later, in 2001, she broke away after the Tehelka’s expose on arms deals surfaced; joined hands with the Congress and fought the West Bengal elections with the Congress. In 2004, she broke away again and joined back the NDA.
Just before the 2009 general elections, she went back to the Congress again and became the railway minister in the Congress-led UPA government. She fought the West Bengal elections of 2011 with the Congress. Now, three years down the line, she has broken free. Will it be a surprise if she returns to the UPA fold some months from now? Hardly, at all.
She has withdrawn support to the UPA saying that it isn’t possible for her to support the “anti-people decisions” of the union government –FDI in multi-brand retail, aviation and media; diesel price hike; capping on the number of subsidised LPG cylinders etc. But in the past, every time she was seen stalling FDI in retail and aviation, objecting to the fuel price hike and hike in railway fares or opposing the candidature of Pranab Mukherjee as the presidential candidate, Mamata Banerjee was found negotiating for a financial package with the union government.
She said she needed additional funds because the three-decade-old Left Front rule had left West Bengal bankrupt. But what did she do with whatever fund was available? She launched a drive to paint all public buildings of Kolkata blue. More recently, she was accused of diverting money for education to celebrating Teachers’ Day. On the other hand, she has dubbed anyone questioning or criticising her policies as “Maoist” and put him/her in jail. Rape cases have been dismissed as “conspiracy” against her. These are hardly “pro-people”.
The UPA’ s journey from now onwards becomes very interesting though. Not only the opposition parties like the BJP and Left Front, even allies like the DMK and Samajwadi Party are unhappy with the latest clutch of reform measures the union government has taken. They want these to be rolled back. The DMK would be joining the opposition-sponsored bandh too. Besides, the BJP will be launching a country-wide agitation, taking the mega scams like coal block allocation to the people. The coal scam washed out the monsoon session of parliament, paralysing legislative works. Who knows what will be the fate of the winter session?
In fact, the UPA’s fate would depend more on how these campaigns pan out in the next few months. As of now, it is safe. Nobody wants general elections now. The SP (with 22 members in parliament) says it wants to keep the BJP at bay and hence won’t destabilize the government. The BSP (21) says it lost UP elections six months ago and need more time for the anti-incumbency to set in for its rival, the SP. Their outside support, and also that of RJD (4), JD(S) (3) and others, takes the number on the side of UPA to at least 301 – well past the half-way mark of 272.