After a waiting game that lasted for five days, Dinesh Trivedi finally resigned as the Railways Minister on Sunday. Mr Trivedi, who is in the eye of a raging storm after he announced a hike in passenger fares in his maiden Railway Budget on Wednesday, spoke to Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee before he quit.
"I got stuck into the confusion and that is why I called her...She told me that I have to step down...I am a soldier of my party and I have to obey the directions of my party and high command," Mr Trivedi said. Ms Banerjee also confirmed of her telephonic conversation with Mr Trivedi before boarding a flight to Delhi on Sunday evening. She will participate in the meeting of her parliamentary party at 2 pm today in the national capital.
Ms Banerjee had sought Mr Trivedi's removal as the Railways Minister over the increase in fares. Towards that end, she had made her intentions clear by promptly announcing his replacement in Mukul Roy. But Mr Trivedi had, so far, remained defiant. He had refused to step down, arguing instead, that he would do so only once Ms Banerjee sent her order in writing.
The Congress, which has so far refrained from taking a call on Mr Trivedi, seemed to have further angered Ms Banerjee. With her patience seemingly running out, she flew to Delhi amidst reports of having a sought a meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. While denying any knowledge of a meeting with the PM, senior Trinamool leader Sudip Bandyopadhaya said that Ms Banerjee's visit to Delhi is only in regard with the parliamentary party meeting. He also added that a withdrawal of support from the Congress-led government at the Centre over the issue is also not being ruled out.
The Trinamool's warning - far from being veiled - comes amidst growing murmurs of the Congress cosying up to the Samajwadi Party. It is being viewed as sign of changing political alignments where the Trinamool Congress - with its constant confrontations with the government including the latest involving Mr Trivedi - can be dispensed with. The Trinamool brings 19 crucial MPs to the table but the Congress, which heads the UPA coalition at the Centre, will continue to sail in safe waters if the former is replaced by the SP's 22 MPs. A possible rejig in alliances was highlighted on Sunday after Congress general secretary Digvijaya Singh said, "I have no objection to their (the SP's) joining the government. While any decision on the SP joining the government will be taken at the government of India level, it will not affect our prospects in Uttar Pradesh. In 2014 also, we will be fighting on our own and not with the SP or any other party," he told the Indian Express."
What had added to the Trinamool's worries was the adamant stand taken by Mr Trivedi over quitting. His party had made it amply clear that his demand for an order in writing from Ms Banerjee to step down was not required. "No letter is going to him. Whatever communication, verbal or otherwise, is good enough. There is no further communication going from the Trinamool to the current Railways Minister," Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien told NDTV on Saturday.
The Trinamool boss wanted Mr Trivedi removed as the Railways Minister ever since he announced a hike in passenger fares in his maiden Railway Budget on Wednesday. Ms Banerjee lost no time in slamming the move - a bold political step in almost a decade that has put Mr Trivedi in the eye of a raging storm. The Trinamool promptly dubbed the announcement as a "betrayal" of sorts by Mr Trivedi, keeping in mind its agenda for the "aam aadmi". But Mr Trivedi has stoutly defended the fare hike, terming it as necessary for the safety, development and modernisation of the Indian Railways.
But despite Ms Banerjee's strong demand - made explicit by her announcement Mr Roy being Mr Trivedi's replacement - the government had refrained from a knee-jerk reaction. As against earlier instances where it capitulated to the Trinamool's demands on almost every key policy decision, the Congress seemed to have been biding its time and closely weighing its options. The PM had spoken to Ms Banerjee on Thursday night.
Ms Banerjee's likely meeting with the PM is also significant given the dispute over the new National Counter Terror Centre (NCTC) that both parties are locked in. Ms Banerjee Ms Banerjee has said the NCTC's powers violate the autonomy of state governments and federalism. Her party moved amendments to the President's address to Parliament earlier this week, asking for a reference to the NCTC to be deleted. The President's address outlines the government's agenda; allies rarely ask for amendments. The BJP has moved similar amendments on the NCTC, and is likely to press for a vote. That could put Ms Banerjee's MPs in the awkward position of voting with the BJP and against the government. The PM, in his reply to the motion of thanks to the President's address on Monday, is expected to assuage Ms Banerjee's fears about the NCTC. That could help diffuse at least some of the tension between the political partners.