Is Didi getting too big for her boots?
Ritesh K Srivastava
The honeymoon period between the Congress and the Trinamool Congress has ended already and the latest signals coming from Writers Building are not very encouraging for the ruling coalition at the Centre. Reason: Didi is upset for her party being sidelined by the Congress in the crucial decision making process.
After smashing the Left citadel in West Bengal last year, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee appears to be making a carefully calculated move of projecting herself as a pro-people’s leader of national stature. She has been consistently questioning crucial policy decisions taken by the UPA government headed by Congress, with which it runs an alliance in her native state and supports at the Centre.
The firebrand leader has wasted no opportunity to needle Congress and reminded it to either follow her diktats or face the consequences. Be it the Teesta water-sharing accord with Bangladesh, petrol price hike, Lokayukta clause in the Lokpal bill, FDI in retail or the renaming of Indira Bhawan, Trinamool has crossed swords with the Congress on almost everything.
On every occasion when Mamata trained her guns at the UPA, the Trinamool leadership defended her action and claimed that the decision to oppose the central policies "was done out of her party’s commitment for the masses".
No doubt that Mamata’s frequent confrontation with the Centre has caused irreparable damage to her party’s relationship with the Congress, and the two are now headed for divorce. The aggression with which she has been attacking the ruling coalition has embarrassed the UPA government and forced it to shelve various important policy decisions. New Delhi shelving the diplomatically important Teesta water-sharing deal with Bangladesh is a pointer to that.
It is not surprising then to think that the Trinamool leader has a different game plan and wants to acquire centrestage in national politics. But what is it that she intends to gain by spitting venom against the Congress-led ruling alliance? Is the Trinamool boss aspiring to become a towering national leader? Has she taken her ‘peoples’ CM’ image too seriously? Is she trying to gain political mileage over her Congress opponents by calling the shots on all the major policies? Let us delve deeper to find out what disturbed the political equilibrium between Trinamool and the Congress.
Teesta Deal & Bail-Out Package: This was probably the first time when the Trinamool-Congress divide came to the fore. The Teesta water-sharing accord, to which both India and Bangladesh attached great significance, cast a shadow over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Dhaka last year. Owing to stiff opposition from the Trinamool Congress, government deferred the official signing of an agreement with Dhaka for the sharing of Teesta waters. Mamata opposed the final draft of the Teesta treaty, saying it is detrimental to the interests of West Bengal. She opposed giving Bangladesh 33,000 cusecs of water, as mentioned in the final draft of the interim treaty for Teesta water-sharing, instead of 25,000 cusecs in the initial draft. To drive her point home, she even refused to accompany PM Singh during his tour to Bangladesh. The scrapping of the Teesta water-sharing treaty caused left the Prime Minister red faced on his maiden bilateral visit to Bangladesh. Didi’s tough opposition to the Teesta deal later turned out to be a blackmail tactic as the Centre doled out a financial package of Rs 8,750-crore for the cash-starved state. Mamata had sought Rs 19,000 crore stating that the central assistance of Rs. 21,614 crore announced by the Centre earlier was not enough to bring state’s economy back on its feet.
Petrol Price Hike: On November 4 last year, state-owned oil marketing companies hiked petrol price by Rs 1.82/ liter citing out of control under-recovery and depreciation in Rupee as major reason for the latest hike. Causing much embarrassment to the UPA, Mamata opposed the decision, saying it would put the common man in great difficulty. The Trinamool leader, showing no signs of relenting, even threatened to pull out of the ruling coalition. However, in a dramatic turnaround, her party accepted the fuel price hike but with a condition that there should be no such increase in coming future.
Retail In FDI: After a brief lull in TMC-Congress relations, Mamata again clashed with the Centre when she opposed its decision to approve 51% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, saying it is against the interest of farmers and small retailers. The new policy, seen as one of the most important economic reforms pressed by the UPA government in years, could have opened the doors for global retail giants like Wal-Mart and Carrefour to enter into one of the world`s largest untapped markets. However, she forced the Centre to suspend the FDI decision, thus winning over lakhs of small traders across the country and leaving the Communists fuming. Declaring the suspension of FDI decision a ‘victory’, Trinamool’s official website then wrote, "Party`s stand on FDI is now a national stand on the issue".
Lokpal Bill & Lokayukta Clause: The next embarrassment for the Congress came in December last year when Mamata’s party took a U-turn on the Lokpal Bill. The party supported the passage of the bill in the Lok Sabha, but made a dramatic volte-face just before the legislation was to be placed in the Rajya Sabha by demanding the provision for state Lokayuktas be dropped. The justification offered by the Trinamool was - it feared that the states would lose their federal autonomy.
Renaming War: The latest issue, which has dealt a major blow to Congress-TMC ties is the West Bengal government’s decision to rename a Kolkata landmark — Indira Bhavan — after Kazi Nazrul Islam, Bengal`s revolutionary poet. The move was seen as Mamata’s attempt to woo minorities and saw the Congress opening a full-fledged war against the Trinamool and the latter accusing it of colluding with the Left.
Clearly, Mamata, who had earned the sobriquet of a ‘giant killer’ by uprooting the Left, is fully aware that Congress badly needs the support of Trinamool - which has 20 members in the Lok Sabha and 6 in the Rajya Sabha - to run the coalition.
With Trinamool extending its base outside West Bengal in states like Assam, Jharkhand and Arunachal Pradesh, Didi now aspires to play a major role in national politics. She wants Trinamool to shed its tag of being a West Bengal-based party and instead become a national player. Trinamool is set to make its electoral debut in the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh in the coming assembly polls, which further proves this point.
However, Congress, which has been forced to swallow the bitter pill from Mamata’s camp at various occasions, may now turn to the Samajwadi Party led by Mulayam Singh Yadav to strengthen its position in Parliament. The Grand Old Party has already joined hands with Rashtriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh and if it forms an electoral alliance with SP, it would be immune to Trinamool’s blackmail.
Congress is aware that the daily sparring with Mamata’s party over small and big issues will do more harm than good for the future of the ruling coalition. By clashing with Congress, Mamata Banerjee has made it clear that the interests of her own party will take precedence over any coalition ‘dharma’.
The UPA`s strength in the Lok Sabha recently went up when RLD joined the alliance with its five MPs. Congress has faced crisis after crisis and lack of solidarity among the UPA allies made it more vulnerable to Opposition’s ruthless attacks, so it is now looking for a dependable ally.
For Mamata, her endeavour to put a pan-India image is a well calculated move to acquire a national stature so that she can dictate terms to Congress even if it leads to her party’s divorce with the former. Whatever one may say, the Assembly Elections in Uttar Pradesh will determine whether or not Trinamool will remain a major constituent of the ruling UPA alliance at the Centre.