Congress, Trinamool harden stand; nation braces for bandh
New Delhi/Kolkata: Wednesday was a hectic day in Indian politics. After the Trinamool Congress decided to quit the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) on Tuesday night leaving the Central government in minority (with 254 MPs), all eyes were focussed on whether the government will climb down from its hard stand on diesel price hike, capping of LPG subsidy and permitting FDI in multi-brand retail.
However, that was not to be and the Congress-led government flatly refused to roll back the big ticket economic reforms, implemented in the face of so-called ‘policy paralysis’ plaguing the government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh being dubbed as an ‘underachiever’ and ‘a tragic figure’ by the foreign media.
The Trinamool Congress, feeling ‘relieved’ after yesterday’s announcement, continued to remain adamant on quitting the ruling UPA.
With both sides declining to relent, a UPA-Trinamool divorce set for Friday was expected to go ahead. All Trinamool ministers in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh`s government will resign that evening.
Amid political fireworks, India Inc today told the government not to take back its key decisions.
The government was, meanwhile, bracing for a nationwide shutdown called by the Opposition on Thursday.
Even the DMK, a UPA ally, has thrown its weight behind the strike.
Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said in Kolkata that her party was firm on leaving the UPA.
"I will stick to my position, come what may...The (TMC) ministers will tender their resignations," she said at Writers` Building, adding there will be no compromise on people`s issue like FDI in retail.
Rejecting Finance Minister P Chidambaram`s statement in Delhi this morning, Banerjee said that nobody from Delhi contacted her before or after the Centre took the controversial decisions.
"Minimum 24 cylinders should be given to a family in a year. How many times you will keep raising the petroleum prices? FDI in retail should be withdrawn," she said in Kolkata.
Minus TMC’s 19 MPs, UPA`s strength is now down to 254, 19 short of majority in Lok Sabha, but with the support of outside allies like SP, BSP, JD(S) and RJD it still has the backing of over 300 MPs in a House of 545.
Despite Banerjee`s unyielding stance, the Congress remained unfazed.
After a meeting of Group of Ministers on media, Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters, "I don`t know why you guys are hung up on that one word rollback. These issues (decisions) were taken after the most careful consideration. They stand."
Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma echoed the view.
"We are not going to go back on the decision as we do not believe in the word `rollback`, and this decision was taken after consultation with each and every state," he said in Ahmedabad.
Along with party colleagues Ambika Soni and Digvijay Singh, he expressed confidence that the UPA government will last its full term – till 2014.
Ambika Soni said: "The UPA government is not in any danger." Digvijay Singh told a TV news channel: "(We) will carry on till 2014."
Congress sources admitted that its emissaries were in touch with Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati, who command 22 and 21 MPs respectively and give outside support to the government.
The Samajwadi Party, which is bitterly opposed to FDI in multi-brand retail, was not making it easier for the UPA with its chief Mulayam Singh Yadav saying its parliamentary board will meet tomorrow to decide its strategy. But his brother and MP Ram Gopal Yadav later said there was no such meeting.
The Left asked the government to roll back its economic decisions -- or quit.
"FDI in multi-brand retail trade is opposed by the majority in Parliament," Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Prakash Karat said in New Delhi.
"So the government should not proceed with (these measures). If the government does not roll back these measures, it has no right to continue in office," he added.
A new element in the high-voltage political scenario was Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar`s statement that his party JD(U) will support any party at the Centre which will give special status for his state.
He has been asking for special status to Bihar in view of its backwardness but his statement has intrigued political circles which were wondering whether he was willing to do political deal with UPA.
Should that happen, it will unravel his parties alliance with BJP that heads the NDA.
The industry meanwhile asked the government not to roll back the reform measures aimed at kick-starting the sagging economy.
"The government should not roll back... It will send a signal that the government is not capable of taking decisions," said RV Kanoria of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
Anand Mahindra and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw too asked the government not to give in to Trinamool.
The Congress, however, said that consumers in Congress-ruled states would get three more cooking gas cylinders at subsidized rate, over and above the six announced last week.
(With PTI/IANS inputs)
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