New Delhi: The row
over rail fare hikes and speculation about Railway Minister Dinesh
Trivedi's resignation Thursday rocked both house of parliament,
with the government deferring the resolution of the crisis till
after Friday's budget and attributing it to the pulls of coalition
Trying to downplay the row, the Trinamool Congress clarified that
a decision on Trivedi's resignation will be taken in consultation
between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the party chief Mamata
Banerjee. In a seeming respite to the beleagured Congress-led
government, the Trinamool assured that it will not destabilise the
According to informed sources, there are two possible scenarios.
Firstly, the government agrees to either a total or a partial
rollback of hike in fares - leading to a truce between the TMC and
the Congress-led government.
Alternately, the government sticks to the fare hikes, provoking a
belligerent Banerjee to move a cut motion in the budget session,
leading to the sense of the house being recorded and a vote taken.
This will effectively mean a parting of ways between the UPA and
the Trinamool, as the government looks for a new ally (possibly
the Samajwadi Party, which has 22 MPs) to save it.
Amid a concerted onslaught by the opposition in parliament,
Trinamool parliamentary group leader Sudip Bandopadhyay said: "I
categorically want to say that the government of UPA II is
properly settled and it will complete its term."
He added in the Lok Sabha that the Trinamool had not asked Trivedi
to resign for presenting a budget that sought to increase rail
fares for the first time in a decade.
A defensive government, however, got more breathing space after
another critical ally, the DMK, also said that it too remained
with the Manmohan Singh government. "We are part of UPA II and
will remain with UPA II," DMK MP T.R. Baalu said.
The Congress put up a brave face after coming under attack in
parliament over the latest political storm, saying differences
within a coalition were but natural.
"These things have happened in the past too," Information and
Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told reporters. "Each (coalition
partner) has different political compulsions.
"It is unfortunate but the leadership is looking at it," she
Congress MP Raashid Alvi also stressed that it was an internal
affair of the government and it could not be discussed outside.
The fire fighting started after an explosive start to the fourth
day of parliament's budget session, with an an aggressive
opposition determined to embarrass the government over the
Trinamool's strident demand that the rail fare hikes be rolled
Trivedi, who was earlier thought to have resigned, did not speak
in the Lok Sabha Thursday. But he smiled when Finance Minister
Pranab Mukherjee told the house that he (Trivedi) had not
Mukherjee admitted that a letter had been received from Banerjee
demanding the scrapping of the rail fare hikes. After an
unrelenting opposition forced an adjournment of the house during
question hour, Mukherjee chided the government's critics for
behaving like "petulant children".
But speculation persisted that Banerjee wanted Trivedi to be
replaced by another Trinamool stalwart and Minister of State for
Shipping Mukul Roy.
Mukherjee also told the Lok Sabha that the railway budget was now
the property of the house, which would vote on the proposals.
He also took responsibility for preparation of the railway budget,
saying only the finance minister's approval was needed and not
that of either the prime minister or the cabinet.
Later, speaking outside the house, the mild-mannered Trivedi
reiterated that he had not been asked to resign by the prime
minister or Banerjee but he would go if he was asked to.
He, however, gently contradicted Banerjee's claim that the party
was not aware of his move to raise rail fares. And in remarks
bound to displease Banerjee, he said he was duty-bound to defend
Earlier, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj asked some
pointed questions: "Is Dinesh Trivedi's rail budget dead or
At a press conference, BJP leader M. Venkaiah Naidu lambasted the
Congress-led government, saying it was falling apart, brick by
brick, due to distrust with its key allies. "There is no
governance. The foundations of this government are being shaken,
brick by brick," he said.
Ironically, support for Banerjee's demand came from her biggest
foe, the Left.
Communist Party of India leader Gurudas Dasgupta said the budget
sought to impose a financial burden on the common man and so was
not acceptable to his party.
The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) too came out with a
detailed point-by-point criticism of the budget.