Government not seriously threatened by TMC withdrawal

Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress – the largest non-Congress member of the United Progressive Alliance government – will formally withdraw its support to the government this afternoon, withdrawing all its ministers, over the 'reform' measures announced last week. The ministers will meet President Pranab Mukherjee at Rashtrapati Bhavan and inform him to this effect.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to appear on TV tonight to explain the need for the economic measures, including allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, hiking diesel prices, and putting a cap on the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders a household can use in a year.

The prime minister, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and other senior leaders of the Congress are scheduled to meet this evening to thrash out their future strategy.

There is no immediate threat to the government, as both Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party and Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party have agreed to support it, and submitted letters to the President to this effect. With 43 MPs between them, the government will have more than the 272 votes it needs to remain in power, and will not need to seek a vote of confidence.

Yadav however has made it clear that he is opposed to the reforms, particularly FDI in retail. He continues to taunt the government by saying that it should not take his party's support for granted. He has also said a 'third front' is likely to emerge after the next general elections. But he categorically stated this morning, "We need to keep communal forces at bay."

Trinamool's Mukul Roy, the railway minister thus far and an outright yes-man of Banerjee, said in Kolkata this morning just before leaving for Delhi, "I am proud that my party chose me to communicate the party's decision of withdrawing support from this anti-people's government."

According to some reports, the government is likely to effect a small rollback of 50 paise per litre on the Rs5 diesel price hike, and increase the quota of subsidised LPG cylinders per household from six to nine a year. The decision was not announced yesterday, as all the opposition parties were bent on calling a nationwide 'bandh' over the reforms.

Sharad Pawar, leader of the Nationalist Congress Party which is a firm supporter of the reforms, this morning slammed Mamata Banerjee, saying that she was fully aware of the decision to allow FDI in multi-brand retail, and that all allies including the TMC had been taken on board before the announcement. This is in direct contravention to Banerjee's claims that she was not consulted about the cabinet decision and had been shocked by the announcement on FDI.
 
However Pawar said that the government would continue talking to Banerjee, adding that he was scheduled to meet her in the coming week.