Delhi: Success usually goes to the head. But not when chips are down.
The government accomplished the difficult task of making the BSP and the
Samajwadi Party vote together in its favour in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday
but promptly got down to the primary task of consolidating its own base by
accepting the old demand of allies for better coordination. The Samajwadi
and the BSP, after all, have no long-term commitment to the UPA.
The government has agreed to hold meetings with the allies every Tuesday,
Wednesday and Thursday when Parliament is in session to discuss floor
strategy. This will not only address the grievance of the allies that the
Congress decides most things on its own, it will also minimise the regular
gaffes in both Houses blamed on lack of communication.
The Congress also responded cautiously to Mamata Banerjee's charge that
the Trinamool Congress was feeling humiliated in the coalition even as the
party's members on Tuesday again stayed away during voting on amendments
to the motion of thanks to the President's address in the Rajya Sabha. On
Monday, they had walked out of the Lok Sabha before voting began.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said: "We have treated all our allies
with extreme sensitivity and utmost courtesy. We have always tried to talk
to them, convince them, respond to their concerns."
Senior Congress leaders, who conceded it was almost impossible to
normalise relations with Trinamool, rejected the possibility of driving
the ally out of the ruling combine. A senior Cabinet minister said: "We
are in politics and acting on emotions and ego reflects bad politics. We
will drag on as we want to run our full term."
The Congress predicament was apparent in the Lok Sabha, too, where the
Railway Budget was debated on Tuesday. The Congress's PC Chacko hailed the
"futuristic" and "growth-oriented" budget for its thrust on safety and
modernisation and described it as "an improvement on the previous budget."
As eyebrows were raised, with members across party lines wondering if the
Congress was criticising Mamata's budgets, Chacko swiftly changed gear.
"We understand if Mamataji opposes the fare hike as she is the leader of
the poor. Unlike the CPM or the BJP, she represents the poor people. It is
only because she has the support of the poor that a single-woman brigade
demolished the 35-year-old regime of the Left."
As CPM members from Kerala repeatedly interjected to remind him of the
Congress's conflicts with Mamata, Chacko said, "it is our internal matter
and we will sort out."
Chacko demonstrated the unique art of political communication by swinging
between two extremes: while he extolled Dinesh Trivedi for implementing
the progressive visions of Kakodkar Committee and Sam Pitroda, he defended
Mamata's position on unwanted burden on the poor. On one hand, he said any
good railway minister would plan for resource mobilisation. On the other,
he demanded a partial rollback of the hike, at least in the general and
Although new railway minister Mukul Roy was not present when the Congress
leader was speaking, Trinamool members who looked harangued initially soon
realised Chacko's compulsion, or strategy, of doing a balancing act.
Congress spokesperson Tewari was asked about Roy's past but he avoided
giving any critical answers. He rejected suggestions that the prime
minister had objections to Roy's name, though the body language of
Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi at the Trinamool leader's swearing-in told
a different story.
When questions about "wagon-breaking" and "scrap trade" charges against
Roy came up, Tewari said the parliamentary ethics committee was studying
the whole gamut of conflict of interest issues and it was better to wait
for its report. This is being seen as a subtle indication that the
Congress, despite being soft on Mamata, was not willing to go beyond a
point to defend the new railway minister.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta