New Delhi: Mamata Banerjee
's ministers will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh around 3 pm today to resign from his government over the new reforms he cleared last week. They will then head to Rashtrapati Bhawan where they will formally withdraw their letter of support to the ruling UPA coalition in which Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress was the second-largest ally. Tonight, the PM is expected to explain on television the economic measures for which he has staked his government, which is now in a minority.
When Ms Banerjee's ministers will meet the PM in New Delhi, the Congress' six ministers in the West Bengal government will resign in Kolkata in a tit-for-tat reaction. This will complete the severing of ties between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress. However, this won't affect Ms Banerjee's government in the state as the Trinamool chief has majority on her own and does not need the Congress' support.
The PM, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and other senior leaders of the Congress will meet this evening at 5 pm to discuss their strategy. There is no immediate threat to the UPA, because of the external regional heavyweights Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati provide external support. With 43 MPs between them, they ensure the government has more than the 272 votes it needs to remain in power.
Sources say that the Prime Minister will not have to seek a vote of confidence unless either Mr Yadav or Mayawati withdraw the letters they submitted to the President of India pledging their support to the UPA. While the opposition BJP can ask for a trust vote, it's unlikely to push for one because it's almost certain that the Prime Minister will win.
Mr Yadav, however, continues to taunt the government with acerbic criticism of its new economic reforms - like most parties, he has opposed the decision to open up the retail sector to foreign super-chains, increase diesel prices and limit the supply of subsidized cooking gas to households. But he he categorically stated this morning that he will continue to provide external support to the ruling UPA coalition. "We need to keep communal forces at bay," said Mr Yadav, providing the Congress some relief in a week that has seen the government it leads reduced to a minority.
"I am proud that my party chose me to communicate the party's decision of withdrawing support from this anti-people's government," said Trinamool minister Mukul Roy this morning in Kolkata just before he left for Delhi.
Last night, Ms Banerjee attacked the government for formally notifying its decision of Foreign Direct Investment or FDI in retail. "Is it ethical, moral and democratic for a minority government to issue government order forcibly and hurriedly when massive protests against it are taking place across the country?" she posted on her Facebook page. (Read: Mamata slams notification on FDI in retail)
The relationship status for the UPA and Ms Banerjee has for long been 'it's complicated' with the chief minister often challenging the policies the government wanted to champion. Last year, when the cabinet first cleared 51 per cent foreign direct investment for multi-brand retail, Ms Banerjee threatened to quit the government, and the policy was shelved, provoking international criticism, and a loss of both face and investor confidence. This time around, the Prime Minister was resolute about standing his ground.
So though Ms Banerjee gave the government 72 hours of notice, creating a window for negotiations, no concessions were offered. The fact that the new retail guidelines were notified hours after she said she was sticking to her schedule for exiting the UPA was a clear message that the coalition was resigned to a future without her.
Sources say that to appease other crucial partners like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, the government is likely to announce a 50 paise rollback in diesel prices, and increase the quota of subsidised cooking gas cylinders per household from six to nine, and that the decision was not shared yesterday to prevent opposition parties who called a massive nationwide strike from claiming credit for the concessions.