Mamata Banerjee keeps up fire,Congress stands firm

UPA: Chidambaram says Centre reached out,TMC chief says ‘distorting facts’

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi/kolkata | Published:September 20, 2012 3:18 am

Chances of the ruling Congress party and the TMC patching up dimmed Wednesday with the Congress Core Group deciding against giving in to TMC pressure to reverse last week’s reform announcements while Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee launched a new,scathing attack against her estranged ally.

The two sides also indulged in harsh finger-pointing over the lack of communication between them leading up to the TMC pulling out of the UPA on Tuesday. Congress leaders said they tried several times to speak to Banerjee and keep her informed about the reform announcements. The West Bengal Chief Minister hit back sharply saying no one got in touch with her or her party and accused the Congress of launching a disinformation campaign.

Congress sources said the party leadership was “fed up” with Banerjee’s “arm-twisting tactics” that had paralysed UPA-II and was determined not to give in to her any more. “With SP and BSP support,the government is stable. Besides,we have reasons to believe that in the event of a no-confidence motion in Parliament,even the Left will stay away from voting. Numbers are not an issue at all,” a senior Congress leader told The Indian Express.

Party sources also said the government is determined to push through more reforms in the Winter session of Parliament,which would become easier with the TMC out of government. “In the next six months,we will change public perception about UPA-II. We will then be prepared for any eventuality,” said another senior Congress leader.

While the government asserted that Banerjee did not respond to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s call four days back,the Congress said UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi had also unsuccessfully tried to speak to the TMC chief Tuesday night.

“We tried to speak to her four days ago. The Prime Minister tried to speak to her. We have left the message to her that she can speak. We have not heard anything,” Finance Minister P Chidambaram said in Delhi. The PM wanted to explain the rationale behind the government’s decisions on FDI in multi-brand retail,diesel price increase and the cap on subsidized LPG cylinders.

Banerjee,however,claimed in Kolkata that no one from Delhi had contacted her “either before or after” the decisions were taken. Railway minister Mukul Roy said he had not received any message from the Prime Minister’s Office to communicate with Banerjee. Union minister and TMC leader Saugata Roy said Banerjee had sent an SMS to Sonia Gandhi at 7 pm last Friday,conveying her opposition to the contentious decisions.

There was no response from the Congress president,claimed Roy. Congress sources,however,said the SMS was sent to a pradesh Congress secretary. The Congress president’s office then asked Roy to give the number on which Banerjee could be reached. The number,however,remained “unreachable” despite several attempts by 10,Janpath to speak to Banerjee,the sources said.

“As I had said yesterday that Mamata Banerjee has raised certain issues regarding which talks will be held with the government. In the mean time,Congress president got a message that she wanted to talk to her. Effort was made to reach her on phone but contact could not be established,” said AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi.

Banerjee hit back by calling a press conference in Kolkata and accusing the Congress of feeding the media “distorted facts”. “No communication has come from the Centre. They are misinforming,disinforming and confusing the people,” Banerjee said.

“Why are they speaking to the press now? Now they are coming up with concocted and distorted information. They should remember that I don’t succumb to dhamki (threat) and humki (intimidation). They may control some news channels but not us,” Banerjee said. The TMC would not budge from its stance on what she called “anti-people issues” such as raising fuel prices and allowing FDI in multi-brand retail.

“When Pranab Mukherjee was the union finance minister,there was a commitment in Parliament that decision on FDI in retail sector would not be taken unless there is a political consensus on this issue,” Banerjee said,referring to the aborted move last year to allow FDI in multi-brand retail.

“Even a Congress minister in the union cabinet,Jyotiraditya Scindia,spoke against FDI. A coordination committee was set up to discuss all the important decisions. But where is ‘ordination’ in the coordination committee? I cannot understand what prompted the Centre to take a final decision on FDI,” Banerjee said.

Her party’s stand on the issue had been communicated to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi five days earlier,Banerjee said. The government’s decision to limit the number of subsidized LPG cylinders to six per year per subscriber was wrong and the TMC wants this to be raised to 24 cylinders,Banerjee said.

She also questioned the Centre’s explanation that states had the option of not allowing FDI in multi-brand retail. “What option they are talking about? There cannot be any discrimination because there is no provision of it in the Constitution,” she said.

Meanwhile,West Bengal’s Congress ministers stayed away from the state Cabinet meeting Wednesday.

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