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'Railways is not the property of a person or party'

Last updated on: March 23, 2012 10:54 IST

I feel I am unshackled: Dinesh Trivedi

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Neerja Chowdhury

If a minister does not have the freedom of expression, it is anything but democracy. It is a sad day for the very foundations of Indian democracy, former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi tells Neerja Chowdhury

When Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar called Railway Minister Mukul Roy to speak in the House at noon on Thursday, there was a sense of curiosity palpable in the House. Everyone waited to see how the new, and apparently reluctant, Roy would reply to the budget which had created upheavals in the United Progressive Alliance.

Roy had been sworn-in just two days earlier and thrown in at the deep end by his leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, after she had shown the door to Dinesh Trivedi minutes after he presented his rail budget and announced a hike in passenger fares.

Roy got up, took out his sheaf of papers and read out from a written speech, which did not last for more than 15 minutes. He started by giving credit to Mamata's vision for the railways which he promised to follow, and quickly came to the main point of nullifying the fare hikes, of second class, sleeper, AC chair car and 3-tier AC fares, that had been announced by his predecessor and party colleague only last week.

For the last 72 hours, speculation had been rife in Parliament whether it would be Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who would reply to the debate, as the senior-most minister in government, in what had become an unprecedented situation. For, many felt that Roy would be too new to get the hang of things so quickly.

But Mamata had willed otherwise, and she had  her way, all the way -- and this is a foretaste of things to come -- in ensuring that Trivedi resigned; that Roy, her most trusted lieutenant, was appointed in his place despite the prime minister's reservations; that this happened immediately without waiting for the budgetary process to be completed; that it was Roy who gave the reply in the house, and not Mukherjee, which is what the Congress had hoped for -- and, most important, that passenger fares were rolled back.

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Image: Former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi
Photographs: Vijay Mathur/Reuters

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Roy's colleagues say he didn't want the job

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She wanted to take total credit for undoing the price hike which would "hurt the poor and the middle classes", and not allow the Congress to take even an iota of the credit for it.

Roy and Dinesh are as different as cheese from chalk -- Roy from a mofussil town background, who could not complete his graduation, had risen from the ranks, totally subservient to the leader. And foreign educated-MBA Trivedi, from a business family, who was brought to prominence during VP Singh's tenure as PM and joined the Trinamool Congress when it was formed in 1998, and ultimately getting into trouble for displaying strains of independent thinking.  

While a weary-looking Roy -- his colleagues said he had not wanted the job Mamata insisted on giving him-- sat through the debate on the rail budget on Wednesday, preparing his speech, Trivedi seemed to enjoy his new-found freedom.

He practiced cricket in the parliamentarians' cricket team; listened to Pak Sufi singer Abida Parveen, was glued to the flood of complimentary SMSes which kept coming on his mobile, congratulating him for his courage in presenting a forward-looking rail budget after a decade of populism.

When asked about his current state of mind, Trivedi replied, "I am in bliss. I am very happy with whatever I have done. I have a spiritual bent of mind..."

An excerpt from a chat with Trivedi:

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Image: President Pratibha Patil administers the oath of office to Mukul Roy as new railway minister
Photographs: B Mathur/Reuters

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'I did not discuss the budget with Mamata'

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Why did you go in for hiking the lower end of the passenger fares, knowing that Mamata would react, and a rollback may have to take place?

My budget was not prepared for a region or a party. It was for the Indian Railways. I was duty-bound to give a good railway budget. My main concern was for safety.

But surely you knew your party leader would be unhappy with fare hikes, for opposition to any price increase is part of the DNA of your party?

I have done what I had to. I did not calculate anything. Members of Parliament, members of the public, Comptroller and Auditor General had been telling me what should be done.

It is said that you had an idea that Mamata had anyway made up her mind to remove you as railway minister after the presentation of the Budget.

This was floating around. A journalist had said this on TV channels. How did he know? It could not have been astrology.

As soon as you finished your Budget speech, within minutes, some of your party colleagues tweeted and gave soundbytes against it? How did that happen so quickly?

Yes how did that happen? Kaise hua?

So, was your sack pre-planned, and you would have gone on something else if it had not been on fares?

I can't say it was pre-planned. But I have reason to believe that it was common knowledge that there would be a fare and freight hike.

Did you discuss the fare hike with Mamata?

No I did not discuss it with her. I conveyed the information to one of our senior bureaucrats who is close to her.

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Image: A file photo of Trivedi with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee


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'The interest of the country is getting compromised'

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How are you feeling after your resignation?

I feel I am unshackled, and feel a true sense of freedom, as if away from too much negativity...and maine reform kar diya (I have brought in reform).

What are your plans now?

I have no plans. I will take life as it comes.

Surely, as a politician, you must have thought about the future?

Can't I be truthful? Why do you want me to be politically correct? I have not thought about the future.

You said that you put the country, family and party in that order of preference. In this day and age, it has become the reverse for most politicians?

That is the reason why people do not like politicians. That is a fact of life. The Indian Railways is not the property of a person or a party.

You started off with VP Singh and have seen at close quarters the emergence and growth of coalition politics in the last two decades. Where do you see politics going today?

Politics is becoming too personalised. The sight of the nation is getting blurred, for the sake of petty politics the interest of the country is getting compromised.

Do you think the lakshman rekhas of the coalition dharma need to be redrawn now?

There is nothing called a coalition dharma. There is only one dharma, and that is the country's dharma. The country's dharma cannot be at variance with the so-called coalition dharma. If it is, there is something not right. Of course, you have to have a common minimum programme. Coalition dharma has often been used as an alibi to save your position.

Why did Mamata prefer Roy over you?

I don't know.

Even after you had presented your budget, and your party did not like some aspects of it, surely it was possible to effect changes?

The rail budget is a proposal; you can accept it or alter it. If a minister does not have the freedom of expression, it is anything but democracy. It is a sad day for the very foundations of Indian democracy.


Image: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee
Photographs: Reuters
Tags: VP Singh , Roy , Mamata

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