Trinamul tells who’s the boss, Congress listens
Calcutta, Jan. 5: The Trinamul Congress today sought to turn the tables on the Congress by two blunt reminders: one on how ministers should behave and the other on how the very survival of the UPA government at the Centre hinged on Mamata Banerjee.
“Uss se hum nahin, hum se woh hain (we don’t owe our existence to them, rather, they exist because of us),” Urban development minister Firad Hakim told reporters at Writers’ Building, referring to the UPA government.
The stern comments came on a day the Congress central leadership signalled a wish to scale down the confrontation by sending to Calcutta the AICC’s Bengal in-charge who appeared to concur with the Trinamul view on ministerial propriety. He also said the high command did not want a clash with Trinamul, “our second largest partner” at the Centre.
Industries minister Partha Chatterjee set the tone in the morning by saying “a minister speaking in public against the government… was not correct”.
Chatterjee did not name anyone but it was clear that he was referring to Manas Bhunia, the irrigation minister who shared a Congress platform at Metro Channel yesterday and rebutted the government’s stand on paddy price.
That a senior leader like Chatterjee chose to speak out suggested that he was articulating the views of Mamata Banerjee on the issue.
“We must clear our stand. A minister speaking in public against the government of which he is a part is not correct. The CPM and the Congress are making a mockery of our party and our leader. There is an attempt to create ill-feeling by the two parties. It is a matter of serious concern,” Chatterjee said at Trinamul Bhawan.
If being lectured by Trinamul on governance was not bad enough, worse was in store for the Congress in the afternoon.
Urban development minister Firhad Hakim said the Congress was “behaving like Kalidas”, adding that the central government would be in deep trouble if Trinamul withdrew support. “They are cutting the branch of the tree they are sitting on. If we withdraw support, the government at the Centre will collapse. Manmohan Singh will no longer remain Prime Minister. We don’t want the government to fall now.”
Hakim said the Congress should have discussed with Mamata Banerjee its objection to the renaming of Indira Bhavan after poet Nazrul Islam. “The PCC chief could have met the chief minister instead of hitting the streets.”
Referring to the attack on Congress leaders, including Bhunia, by alleged CPM cadres in Mangalkot in 2009, Hakim said: “We have always fought against the CPM but we never had to run across fields clutching our dhotis and say ‘sir, please save us’.”
Shakeel Ahmed, the AICC general secretary, spelt out the high command’s stand that the state Congress should scale down its protests against the Mamata-led government.
“Manasji is a cabinet minister in the coalition government in Bengal. I would suggest that nobody should speak against the government to which he belongs. After all, we are alliance partners in the government and any criticism of it would show all of us in poor light,” Shakeel told The Telegraph.
Bhunia said this evening: “You want me to keep silent even when our principal coalition partner keeps denigrating us? Being a politician, you have to protest when a raw nerve is touched. I did not say anything harsh against Trinamul. I only wanted to assert that in a coalition government, each partner should restrict itself to its Lakshmanrekha. If you keep abusing your small partner, he has to react.”
During the day, in an obvious effort to snub the Congress, Trinamul minister Subrata Mukherjee turned up at Writers’ with the late Congress leader A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s niece Shehnaz Quadery.
Nazrul Islam’s granddaughter Mishti Kazi also appeared at Writers’, accompanied by Hakim, and praised Mamata for trying to preserve her grandfather’s legacy.
Mishti, however, said: “We are deeply hurt by the way in which the matter is being politicised. My grandfather was not a political person.”
Shakeel said he had asked state Congress leaders to resolve the dispute over renaming Indira Bhavan after Nazrul Islam.
“I have asked them to hold discussions with the chief minister to resolve the dispute,” Shakeel said. “Instead of hitting the streets against the government of which we are a part and parcel, the growing tension between the alliance partners has to be settled across the table. The high command does not want confrontation with Mamataji,” Shakeel said.
The AICC leader said he had asked PCC chief Pradip Bhattacharya to meet Mamata to explain to her that changing the name would hurt the sentiments of Congress workers across the country.
“We admire Nazrul Islam as a great secular poet,” Shakeel said. “But Nazrul Bhavan should be set up elsewhere and Indira Bhavan should house things associated with Indiraji’s memories. I do hope that Mamataji will change her mind, if an appeal is made to her in a proper way.”