Delhi: The Trinamool Congress on Tuesday moved amendment motions in
both Houses against the President's Budget Session speech, prompting
Pranab Mukherjee to sound a warning about the government's survival if the
allies continued to behave this way.
The development came on a day Trinamool seemed bent on tormenting the
government inside and outside Parliament, and then snubbed it by sending a
lone, lightweight MP to a dinner hosted by the prime minister and a UPA
meeting that preceded it.
Pranab's warning came at the dinner and was in reference to Trinamool and
the DMK moving separate amendments to the President's address. Trinamool
wanted the deletion of a paragraph mentioning the proposed National
Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), while the southern ally was demanding a
reference to rights violations against Tamils in Sri Lanka.
"If you press your amendments, the opposition could use that to its
advantage and demand a vote. This could endanger the government. The
government can fall if it gets defeated in the vote," the finance minister
and Lok Sabha leader is learnt to have told the allies, nudging them to
withdraw their motions.
Sources said the Trinamool representative at the dinner, the little-known
Hooghly MP Ratna De Nag, merely told Pranab: "I shall convey whatever you
have said to my leader Mamata Banerjee."
The government, however, appeared ready to relent over controversial
provisions of the NCTC that Mamata Banerjee and many other chief ministers
see as an infringement on the states' domain, sources said.
The government is learnt to have proposed a short discussion in Parliament
on the NCTC to get the views of Trinamool and other parties. Chidambaram
has called a meeting of chief ministers on April 16.
At the dinner, Pranab impressed on all the allies the need for full
attendance in the House keeping in mind the importance of the scheduled
business. Home minister P Chidambaram too told reporters that there was a
"fair chance" of voting during the debates on the general and railway
budgets and on the motion of thanks to the President's address.
These cautionary remarks capped a day during which Trinamool behaved more
like an opposition party in the Houses, and then announced a dharna on
Parliament's lawns on Thursday to protest the way the Centre was
"depriving" Bengal of financial assistance.
The incidents seemed to belie Mamata's assertion that her party would
stand by the government following the setbacks the Congress had suffered
in the recent state elections.
It was in the background of the poll reverses that Manmohan Singh had
called a meeting of the UPA partners, to be followed by a dinner at his 7
Race Course residence. Parties extending outside support, such as the
Samajwadi Party, BSP and the RJD, were not invited to keep it a close-knit
But Trinamool sent De Nag to register a token presence despite ministers
and senior leaders such as Sudip Bandopadhyay and Saugata Roy being
present in Delhi.
Trinamool MP Derek O'Brien tweeted: "Dr Ratna Nag who attended PM dinner
is our Deputy Leader in Lok Sabha. She is a lady & in our party we
respect all. She is a key member of TMC."
Even railway minister Dinesh Trivedi, Trinamool's only Cabinet member,
stayed away from the meeting and the dinner, saying he was busy with the
Trinamool's slow torture of the Congress had started from Parliament. Its
Lok Sabha chief whip rose during Question Hour, ostensibly to ask a
supplementary question on the NCTC, but instead demanded the proposal to
establish the counter-terror body be dropped immediately.
"The NCTC encroaches upon the federal rights of the states. The government
should withdraw it immediately," Kalyan Banerjee said.
Chidambaram promised a debate but Kalyan carried on saying: "No need for
debate; it should be withdrawn."
Kalyan and a Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP then moved the amendment motions in
Participating in the debate over the motion of thanks to the President's
address, Kalyan made no reference to the speech and devoted himself to
castigating the government over issues such as Centre-state
revenue-sharing and financial assistance for Bengal.
Sudip later said on Thursday's dharna would be held under the Mahatma's
statue on the Parliament premises.
"We will raise slogans and hold placards to protest how Bengal has been
deprived and appeal to the prime minister to help the state," Sudip said.
Although the DMK too moved an amendment to the President's speech, its
overall behaviour differed from Trinamool's. It sent its leader in the Lok
Sabha, TR Baalu, to the prime minister's dinner. Another key ally, the
NCP, sent heavy industries minister and senior leader Praful Patel.
The government moved to appease its smaller partners, Chidambaram
promising their members more time to speak in Parliament than the two or
three minutes they get now. "That was appreciated by Congress president
Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The Congress party has
agreed to give its chunk of time to smaller parties so that their members
can speak for at least seven or eight minutes," he said.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta