By Twesh Mishra:
Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal has for long been a thorn for the ruling United Progressive Alliance. Riding high on the support of 19 MP’s who are supporting the near to redundant central government and the majoritarian Trinamol Congress Government in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee is certainly calling the shots for major deals struck by the UPA.
What brought the limelight back onto Didi (as she is popularly referred to) is the 2012 Railway Budget Presented by Railway Minister Dinesh Trivedi. The Trinamol stalwart replaced Mamta Banarjee as the Railway Minister when she decided to forfeit her post in the Central Government to serve the people of West Bengal and was steadily inching closer to the Congress Party. Trivedi was constantly accused by party loyalists and Didi herself of swaying away from the party’s ideologies.
The quintessence defiance projected itself when the Union Rail Budget was presented in the parliament without the prior consent of her highness. The 2012 Budget focused on safety and security of trains as a priority and also on increasing the fares. An enraged Mamata adamant to reinforce loyalty into her ranks declared publically at a gathering in Nandigram that her she would oppose the fare hike.
The adamant Trivedi stood by his stand of raising the tariff by 2 paisa rise in fare per kilometre in second class, 10 paisa per kilometre rise in third AC and 30 paisa per kilometre hike in first AC. Further the price of platform tickets earlier costing Rs. 3 was hiked to Rs. 5. The negligible escalation of tariff rates would help the railways recover an estimated Rs. 6000 crore.
But Mamata saw otherwise, with the Municipal Elections an year ahead, Didi witnessed the tariff hike as an electoral serpent. She was quick to distance herself from the proposed budget and even quicker to demand the replacement of her own party member with Mukul Roy, the Minister of State for Shipping. Her antic may go down among the electorates as an attempt to uphold the sanctity of the masses and cater to look after the needs of the poor. But for a relatively broadminded set of individuals willing to look beyond electoral politics, Mamata has set a terrible precedent.
The arguments put forward by Trivedi while advocating the rise in prices were convincing for any balanced individual. Firstly, the prices had not been revised for over 9 years and going by the increasing inflation and subsequent increase in living standards, it was necessary for the Indian Railways to revise their fares. Secondly, 2 paisa price hike per kilometre in second class tickets is a virtual nothing if comparing to the current market scenario. If assuming the distance of journey to be 1500 kilometres, the price hike would be a menial Rs. 30. As if these were not enough to convince the undisputed upholder of people’s rights in West Bengal, the Rs. 6000 crore increase in revenue would be utilised in completing pending tasks and further in upgrading the current railways network to comply to more stringent standards of security and safety.
Sadly, Didi was unable to grasp these arguments and insisted on replacing her minister and vehemently criticizing the budget proposed by him. It is not that this is the first time that Mamta Banerjee has opposed any supposed anti-poor legislation. Over the past years Didi and her party have expressed palpable displeasure on any various policies adopted by the UPA II. Being a member of the UPA, Mamta commands a special place in the corridors of power and does ensure her participation in even the most menial decisions.
The mention of the Railway Budget and the ensuing controversy is incomplete without a mention of the Indian National Congress. The year 2012 seems to be the year of setbacks for the Congress government. After the dismal performance in the Uttar Pradesh Elections and the precarious Uttarakhand government, the grand old party needs to rethink its strategies and political aspirants. The congress party is certainly not in the pink of health and Didi is not doing anything to make them feel any better.