M A I N   N E W S

Mamata withdraws from UPA, Manmohan govt in minority
TMC chief keeps door open for compromise, asks party MPs to quit on Friday 
Anita Katyal/TNS

New Delhi, September 18
The UPA government was reduced to a minority today after its key ally Trinamool Congress (TMC) pulled out of the ruling combine in protest against its refusal to concede its demand to roll back the fuel price hike, the cap on subsidised LPG and retail FDI. At the same time, the TMC left the door ajar for a possible patch-up, giving the UPA time till Friday to meet its conditions.

Announcing her decision in Kolkata, an angry TMC chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declared her ministers would submit their resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday. "We are withdrawing support... we will not be in UPA II," she said.

With the withdrawal of the 19-member TMC, the UPA's strength in the Lok Sabha will be reduced from the present 273 (just two more than the half-way mark) to 259 members. However, the UPA government is unlikely to collapse as it is banking on the support of the 22-member Samajwadi Party (SP) and 21 MPs of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which have been propping up the ruling combine from outside.

Nevertheless, the UPA government has been rendered vulnerable as it will now be more dependent on SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati, who are bound to extract their pound of flesh for their support.

Confident that Mayawati will be firmly on its side, the UPA government cannot say the same about Mulayam Singh Yadav, who could be inspired by Mamata to ditch the ruling combine.

Although the Congress drew comfort from SP leader Ram Gopal Yadav's statement that his party will not be influenced by Mamata's decision, he also warned that his party's support could not be taken for granted.

The UPA's woes were further compounded with its dependable ally the DMK saying it would support the Opposition-led Bharat Bandh on September 20 to protest the government's recent decisions.

The Congress was clearly taken aback by Mamata's decision as it was convinced she would only withdraw her ministers from the government but not quit the UPA. Going into damage control mode, the Congress continued to describe as a valuable ally and said it is still willing to reach out to her.

Speaking to mediapersons after the TMC announcement, AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi struck a conciliatory note, saying the government was open to a discussion on the issues raised by Mamata Banerjee. “We regard her as an important partner,” he said.

The Congress is pinning its hopes on the window of opportunity provided by Mamata, who said she would re-think her decision if the UPA increased the cap on subsidised LPG cylinders from six to 12, rolled back the diesel price hike to Rs 3 or 4 and reversed its policy on FDI in multi-brand retail. The fact that the TMC ministers will resign on Friday gives the Congress leadership three days to persuade its mercurial ally to reverse her decision.

Even before Mamata announced her decision, Congress president Sonia Gandhi met the PM to discuss the roadmap ahead. However, it is not clear what kind of a face saver it will be willing to offer to the TMC chief.

So far, the PM and Finance Minister have ruled out any rollback on their reforms-related measures which, they believe, will help the ailing Indian economy. Chidambaram had declared yesterday that the government would stay the course and would be introducing a raft of further reforms to boost growth.

Accused of policy paralysis and weighed down by a series of corruption scandals, the PM decided to bite the bullet and go ahead with the stalled reforms agenda. Congress strategists had believed that Mamata’s opposition was due to her political competition with the Left in Bengal and that she wouldn’t walk out of UPA as she can neither go with the BJP because of her Muslim support base, nor join hands with the Third Front since the Left is part of it. But the Congress clearly misread the situation.

Sonia may have to step in

Congress President Sonia Gandhi may step in after Mamata Banerjee refused to speak to the PM when he called her up on Tuesday to resolve their differences. It was hoped Mamata would call back after a message was sent to her party colleague Mukul Roy that the PM wanted to speak to her. But to little avail. The Centre is willing to increase the cap on LPG to placate Mamata, but is unlikely to roll back fuel price hike and retail FDI.





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