Use the crisis

If TMC pulls back,UPA must seize the opportunity to bring railways back on track

Written by The Indian Express | Published: September 18, 2012 2:07 am

If TMC pulls back,UPA must seize the opportunity to bring railways back on track

Mamata Banerjee has dealt so fast and loose in ultimatums and ploys for one-upmanship that no one is holding their breath as the clock draws down on her latest deadline for the Centre to roll back its belatedly announced reform measures. What is more pertinent is whether the Congress will see this crisis as the opportunity it is to recover the railways from the TMC’s feudal grip.

It is not so much a question of staring down a petulant ally. Banerjee’s tantrums are interrogating the Congress on its will to govern,on its stamina to hold together a coalition on the basis of a coherent agenda. It is far from certain that by holding its nerve,the Congress will lose the TMC’s support. Even if it does,the exit will not necessarily rock the UPA’s applecart — the political grid in the Lok Sabha,for now,is predisposed to an aversion to snap polls. But the larger issue concerns the Congress itself. For far too long in the tenure of UPA 2,the party has interpreted the task of maintaining political stability as being an exercise in pacifying allies. Indeed,it can be argued that it has seemed so frightened of testing and confronting its allies that it has even stopped conversing with itself. It is this hollowing out of debate within the party that has shown up as the UPA 2’s so-called policy paralysis. Therefore,even as the logic of the UPA’s overdue moves on fuel pricing and investment in retail demands that Banerjee’s bluff be called,Manmohan Singh’s government and the Congress party need to articulate more forcefully the case for these measures. The party needs an argument to manage allies,not just arithmetic.

Nothing would signal a course correction as emphatically as the railways being freed from the TMC’s grip. It could be the opportunity for the UPA to announce a new intolerance of the practice of Central ministers making themselves answerable to provincial chief ministers. It would indicate whether the UPA is in fact serious about getting back its administrative mojo. The PM cannot afford to waste this crisis.

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