The ugly face of coalition
politics came into open when Dinesh Trivedi, the Union Railway
Minister representing the Trinamool Congress, was made to resign
after presenting his maiden budget.
Trivedi presented the annual rail budget on 14 March 2012. The
budget included an all over hike in passenger fares, ranging from
2 paise to 30 paise per kilometer for reasons of safety along with
network expansion and modernization of the Railways.
The rail budget was appreciated by the general public, industry
groups and all five Rail Unions of the country.
The only person who disapproved the budget was the Trivedi’s own
part chief Ms Mamata Banerjee. The Chief Minister of West Bengal
declared that she was not consulted on railway fare hike as
proposed in the budget.
Ms Banerjee demanded the withdrawal of the proposal and also the
dismissal of Railway Minister Dinesh Trived, her party nominee.
It was amidst high drama that Trivedi finally resigned on March,
18, 2012, being the first railway minister of the country who has
removed for serving the railways.
Indian Railways is the country's largest employer and there are
about 14 lakh employees. The annual plan for 2012-13 has been set
for Rs.60,100 crore, hardly 10 per cent more than last year. The
Union government’s budgetary support is restricted to Rs.24,000
Now how the deficit funds has to be raised. Naturally, the
Railways have to augment its own internal resources. This is what
exactly Trivedi did.
Its through a rationalization of the freight tariff he propose to
garner Rs.20,000 crore. He advocated revision of the present fare
that was not touched for eight years and that would fetch an
additional Rs.7,000 crore.
Trivedi did not touch the sleeper class fare but only proposed the
revision of the first class or air-conditioned class fares.
However, this became his achelies heel. The Minister was forced to
resign for showing loyalty to the country and its Railways then to
his own party.
It’s for long Indian Railways has been victim of populism of
successive Railway Ministers starting from Ram Vilas Paswan, Lalu
Prasad Yadav and Mamata Banerjee.
Had the Railway gone in for a marginal three to five-per-cent
revision in fares over the years, the hefty increase in upper
class rail fare that Trivedi proposed may not have been necessary?
In all honesty of purpose the minister did what were good the
country and railways. As the Railway minister, Trivedi advocated
instituting a rail regulator to fix rail fares.
He has also advocated de-politicizing the Railways and would like
to restructure the Indian Railway Board.
Trivedi believed that the Indian Railways can add 2% to India's
GDP. However, for that the government must modernize the railways
and for doing that needed adequate funds.
He also sounded open to the idea of privatization of the Railways,
which would allow more funds to be allocated to help the system
cope with capacity.
Trivedi also expressed his interest to start high speed passenger
trains in India with Japanese help or French support.
As a matter of fact, he tried to push for a national policy on
railways that would continue irrespective of political changes in
All this did not go down well with his political party, the
Trinamool Congress, in particular Ms Mamta Banerjee, the West
Bengal Chief Minister. She made fare hike an issue and Dinesh
Trivedi a scapegoat.
The TMC and the Congress party were having uneasy relationship for
some time. The drama centered on Dinesh Trivedi was an act of arms
twisting by the TMC to demonstrate that an alliance partner can
call the shots, even in a legitimate case.
As a cabinet minister in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet, Dinesh Trivedi
was serving the Indian nation and not the Trinamool Congress. The
Rail Budget he prepared was at the instruction of the Prime
Minister of India and not to suit the whim and fancy of his party
This is where he was caught off guard. The Trinamool Chief,
Mnamata Banerjee took this as an offence as to why its nominee did
not follow the party policy of no increase in rail fares and went
by the instruction of the union government.
It sounds bizarre but indeed true that on this issue the TMC
gunned for Trivedi’s portfolio. What a very sad commentary on the
functioning of the Indian democracy.
The fare hike issue could have been amicably settled between the
UPA and the TMC with an agreement of partial roll back without
disturbing Dinesh Trivedi.
But given the unpredictable nature of the TMC leader Ms Mamata
Banerjee, the matter was to be resolved only through the
resignation of the railway minister. In such case Trivedi for no
fault, had to resign for the sake of coalition dharma.
For the UPA, this TMC drama comes as another crisis in an already
difficult situation. It could no way have got out of this mess
without pandering to its wish. For it crisis management was more
important then individual and right policies.
Dinesh Trivedi episode is certainly an unfortunate development and
a sad commentary on the working of world’s largest democracy.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is journalist based in Chennai. He can be
contacted at email@example.com