Amid bedlam, UPA II gets some relief, courtesy allies

New Delhi : Amid uproar in parliament, the Congress-led government got some respite Thursday afternoon after the warring Trinamool Congress declared there was no threat to the ruling coalition.

“I categorically want to say that the government of UPA II is properly settled and it will complete its term,” Trinamool’s parliamentary group leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay said, bringing some relief to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

He added in the Lok Sabha that the Trinamool had not asked party colleague and Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi to resign for presenting a budget that sought to increase rail fares for the first time in a decade.

Although the government was still in crisis mode, it 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 added.

The fire fighting started after an explosive start to the fourth day of parliament’s budget session, with an aggressive opposition determined to embarrass the government over the Trinamool’s strident demand that the proposed rail fares be rolled back.

Dinesh 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 resigned.

Mukherjee admitted that a letter had been received from Trinmaool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee demanding the axing of the rail fare hike.

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.

Manmohan Singh too sounded placatory.

“Well, if anything like this develops, we will consider it,” he said when asked if Trivedi will go.

Mukherjee also told Lok Sabha that the railway budget was now the property of the house, which would vote on the proposals made by the minister Wednesday.

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.

“I had earlier given indication about it. But I will not divulge any details as I am a loyal soldier of the party.”

And in remarks bound to displease Banerjee, he said he was duty bound to defend the budget.

Earlier, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Sushma Swaraj asked some pointed questions: “Is Dinesh Trivedi’s rail budget dead or alive?”

Janata Dal-United leader Sharad Yadav insisted that Trivedi could not have framed his budget without the prime minister’s knowledge.

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 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.

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