Mamata takes on centre, Left over fuel price hike
After a few days of truce with the central government, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has revived her crusade against the Congress-led UPA over its decision to hike petrol and diesel prices.
Banerjee's patch-up with the United Progressive Alliance government, after her U-turn to support presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee, ended after the centre decided to implement a policy, adopted in 2003, prompting a steep hike in petrol and diesel prices following re-adjustments the oil companies based on local levies.
After the re-adjustments, petrol in Kolkata would be dearer by Rs.2.52 a litre to sell at Rs.76.13 per litre, while diesel rates would rise by Rs.0.92 per litre to sell at Rs.44.66.
Threatening to hit the streets, Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief, demanded an immediate withdrawal of the "unilateral" decision to raise fuel prices by terming the situation "as heading towards a political confrontation".
Known for her penchant for playing to the gallery, Banerjee this time ruled out any subsidy from the state government on petroleum and diesel prices, saying that the state government's coffers were empty.
"They (the centre) have not given my government any funds. They have not given me any moratorium on paying interests on central loans. Where from will the state provide such huge subsidy?" Banerjee said.
But the "once bitten twice shy" Banerjee decided not to let her arch rival Left parties gain from her confrontations with the centre, unlike in the recent past when the communists supported Pranab Mukherjee and gained from the Congress-Trinamool rift over the presidential election.
"If CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) is thinking that it will use my fight against the centre for its own political gains, then I must say they are fools. They are planning to fill my party's place in the union cabinet if I leave it. I know where to draw 'Lakshman Rekha'," Banerjee said.
Banerjee may have succeeded in sending out a message to the centre that she is not going to leave the UPA ministry. But with the petrol and diesel becoming dearer in the state and the CPI-M's labour wing, Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), announcing a state wide transport strike, it seems she needs to send out one more message to investors and the country that West Bengal can no longer be held hostage to shutdowns.
Like the industrial strike of Feb 28, when the state government went out of its way to foil the shutdown by issuing circulars and prohibiting government employees from taking part, this time too Banerjee has threatened to cancel licences of the public vehicles if they take part in the shutdown.
CITU, known for calling bandhs and shutdowns now and then, has demanded that the state government provide subsidy on petroleum and diesel prices, which Banerjee has rejected, citing the poor financial condition of the state.
"When she was in the opposition, she used to regularly demand that the state government lower taxes on petro products whenever the prices were hiked. But she seems to have undergone a change of heart after coming to power," CITU state chief Shyamal Chakraborty said.
With the transport union determined on the strike and Banerjee equally determined to foil it, the state once again seems to be heading towards a showdown July 31.
(Pradipta Tapadar can be contacted at email@example.com)