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Mamata Effect
CPM unlikely to head rly panel
Anita Katyal/Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 27
Reverberations of the fierce political rivalry between the UPA’s key partner, the Trinamool Congress, and the CPM can be felt in Parliament even before the commencement of next week’s Budget session.

The chairmanship of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Railway Ministry is at the heart of this present wrangle, which is also a pointer to the fast-changing political equations at the Centre.

The parliamentary panel on the Railways was chaired by the CPM during the ruling combine’s earlier stint in the government. The Left parties were then an important ally of the UPA while Mamata Bannerji-led Trinamool Congress was on the other side of the political divide. The situation has changed dramatically since then.

Now that Mamata Bannerji has switched sides to the UPA and is heading the prestigious Railway Ministry, a big question mark has arisen over the continuation of her arch rival, the CPM, as chair of the Railways Standing Committee, which scrutinises the budgetary proposals of the concerned ministry.

The Congress is nervous that the pitched battles being fought by two in West Bengal could have serious repercussions at the Centre, fearing that the committee proceedings may well turn out to be explosive. Not wanting to take any chances, senior Congress leaders have informally approached CPM leader Basudev Acharia to persuade him to opt out of the Railway panel and choose another as the Lok Sabha Speaker’s office is currently in the process of reconstituting the standing committees.

Although reluctant to part with the Railways committee, Acharia has said the CPM would prefer infrastructure ministries like coal, steel or energy. However, the last word on this is yet to be heard.

Acharia said the CPM had headed the standing committee on Railways since 1991 except for a brief period when the NDA was in power and Mamata Bannerji had a short stint as the Railway Minister. The CPM was persuaded to relinquish this panel which was then headed by the Telugu Desam Party (TDP).

The CPM leader, however, felt that too much was being made of this matter as these committees function impartially, pointing to the numerous unanimous reports penned by them in the past.

While these committees are said to be non-partisan, it is a well-known fact that political outfits jostle for the chairmanship of key committees dealing with important ministries. The political significance of the Standing Committees comes into play when key legislations are sent to it for vetting or when it is scrutinising budgetary proposals.

Since the strength of the Left parties and the BJP has reduced in the new Lok Sabha, the number of committees they can has also come down. The Congress will now head six panels while five will go to the NDA, which includes the Janata Dal (U) whose numbers have swelled this time.

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