Mamata makes PM, Pranab eat humble pie
With her latest masterstroke, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has made the Congress lose its credibility in the eye of the aam admi, says Sheela Bhatt
The Congress-led United progressive Alliance government has been forced to suspend its decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail.
The issue of FDI will not surface again till the Uttar Pradesh elections, due to be held in 2012, are over. This is a huge political setback for the government but it will have to accept it because its timing was wrong.
According to Congress's calculations, it is better to cut losses now than to opt for voting and then losing the vote over FDI in retail.
If the government loses the vote during the adjournment motion in Lok Sabha, technically the government will not fall but it will be dubbed as a 'lame duck' government.
The Congress is all set to eat humble pie at a very high cost.
On the issue of FDI in retail, it failed to convince Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Image: A protest against FDI in retail
Kolkata wins, Delhi loses
The intra-UPA tension has dented the prestige of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.
It is not opposition parties like the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left Front but UPA ally Trinamool's chief who has brought the government to its knees.
Kolkata wins, Delhi loses.
Mamata's importance has increased because she has stuck to her politics of Ma, Maati and Manush. She has made the Congress lose its credibility in the eye of the aam aadmi (common man).
She took a stand and didn't budge from it.
The Uttar Pradesh polls are too vital for regional parties like the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party to flirt with the Congress at the Centre while fighting tooth and nail in the state.
Trinamool's 19 votes in Parliament -- in the event of an adjournment motion followed by voting -- have turned the table.
The final FDI decision now becomes uncertain as the UPA doesn't have the requisite numbers to push it through.
Image: West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee
Pranab Mukherjee has committed a political blunder
During voting in Parliament, if the members of ruling party abstain from voting, it doesn't help the government to win.
The decision of members of the opposition parties to abstain helps the government.
On Saturday night, when Pranab Mukherjee landed in New Delhi from Kolkata, he had returned with a failed mission.
Banerjee has stubbornly refused to support UPA government's decision to allow 51 per cent FDI in multi-brand retail trade.
Mukherjee has committed a political blunder.
Earlier, he had taken on Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi when the latter tried to stop the Cabinet from approving the controversial decision.
Mukherjee lost his temper and Trivedi called him a "school master". Eventually, Trivedi walked out of the Cabinet meeting and the Union of ministers approved FDI in retail after that.
Image: A protest against FDI in retail
Mamata Bannerjee has won hands down
Mukherjee and Commerce minister Anand Sharma will have a lot to answer for when Congressmen ask them why they had pushed the decision on FDI when they knew two crucial allies of UPA are against the issue.
They will have to explain why they did not realise that the decision will provide opposition parties one more issue to put the government on the defensive. Most importantly, why didn't Uttar Pradesh elections figure in their political calculus?
Mamata Banerjee has won hands down. Her cunning move has taken the Congress by surprise.
Instead of waiting for Wednesday when Parliament will convene again, she called the media to share the details of Mukherjee's attempts at negotiations within 10 minutes of talking to the finance minister.
It was her masterstroke to pre-empt the Congress's spin on the issue.
"I had a telephonic conversation with him (Pranab Mukherjee) twice today (Saturday). He has told me that the Centre has decided to suspend implementation of the decision to allow FDI in retail. He has told me that the decision will not be implemented unless there is consensus on the issue," Banerjee declared.
Image: Commerce Minister Anand Sharma
The issue will not resurface
She has asserted the importance of minor partners of the government. She has grabbed the opportunity because she realised that the timing of the decision is horribly wrong for the Congress, thanks to the UP polls. She took advantage of the fact that the SP and the BSP will not come to the rescue of the UPA.
Banerjee has also ensured that in the future, this issue doesn't resurface.
She revealed that she had also asked Mukherjee if there was any possibility of the government implementing the decision later. Banerjee informed the media, "I have been told that there are no ifs and buts. Unless there is a consensus, the decision will not be implemented."
In a guarded response to Banerjee's claims, Mukherjee said he can't announce anything because Parliament is in session.
He said that any government decision will be made in Parliament. This is clearly a very defensive statement because, by his own argument, the decision to introduce FDI in retail was a decision by the Executive.
Image: The Indian Parliament
Mamata will have the last laugh
Mukherjee's party has forcefully stated that Parliament has no business trying to impact the Executive's decision.
Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni had told rediff.com on Friday, "This is an Executive decision. This is a policy well within the right and prerogative of the Executive. If every policy of the government -- whichever government of whichever party -- is debated and voted over in Parliament then the government can't act."
In fact, a Cabinet minister told rediff.com, "Dr Singh will have to convene the Cabinet again to take a new decision to put on hold FDI in retail. No other authority can suspend the issue."
If this huge embarrassment doesn't quite receive a dramatic reaction from Dr Singh or Mukherjee, then Banerjee will have the last laugh.
Image: Mamata Banerjee