Indian Decade

Mamata and Congress at Each Other’s Throats

A thorn in the government’s side, the chief minister of W. Bengal is courting the Congress party’s regional allies.

The last shreds of camaraderie between the Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and erstwhile ally Mamata Banerjee dissolved on Monday. Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal and the supreme leader of the Trinamool Congress Party that has 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha, said she would bring a no-trust motion against the UPA government, if the regional Samajwadi Party (SP) declared support for this motion.

This is a big ‘if’. SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav is a bulwark of support for the beleaguered government along with his 22 MPs in the Lok Sabha. Yadav, who has had an unsteady relationship with Banerjee, has already gone on record supporting the UPA and ruling out a snap poll. There are two reasons for Yadav’s loyalty: first his son Akhilesh Yadav’s six-month-old government in Uttar Pradesh is facing accusations of economic mismanagement and a rising incidence of violence against women in the state; a Lok Sabha election would be unwelcome. Second, Yadav’s arch-rival, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party with 21 MPs in the Lok Sabha, is waiting in the wings to strike a bargain with the UPA if Yadav throws his weight behind Banerjee.

Banerjee addressed a rally in Delhi on Monday, directed against the government’s recent decision to relax foreign direct investment restrictions in five sectors, including multi-brand retail and aviation, and to sharply increase diesel prices. Sharad Yadav, the convener of the main opposition umbrella group National Democratic Alliance, shared the dais with Banerjee. She launched a scathing attack on the government for its "anti-people policies" and announced that her party will hold protests across the country. To woo the Samajwadi Party, Banerjee said she would invite Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav for her upcoming rally in Lucknow against foreign direct investment.

For its part, the Congress bared its fangs against Banerjee in retaliation. While the Trinamool Congress was holding a rally at Delhi’s historic Jantar Mantar observatory, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit held a parallel rally supporting foreign direct investment. Dikshit announced that the top brass of the Congress party, led by party president Sonia Gandhi and prime minister Manmohan Singh, will start a massive outreach program to explain to the people the virtues of its decisions. The first of these rallies will be held at Delhi's Ramlila grounds on October 28, where Gandhi and the prime minister will address the crowd. There are speculations among political insiders that the UPA will bring forward the general elections by a year, from the current date of May 2014.