Dinesh Trivedi: Minister of Railways

Have you been following the latest fiasco in Indian politics, regarding the Railways Ministry? Well, here’s what has already happened:

The Railway Minister, Dinesh Trivedi, proposed the annual budget for the Railways. This was lauded to be a very well designed budget by one and all, including other politicians and the media—except for one person: Trivedi’s party chief, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Her gripe? Trivedi had introduced modest fare increases, saying that his first priority was to increase safety in the Railways, and if this means small fare increases, so be it. (Mind that this was the first fare increase in the last nine years! Considering the rest of the economy, it’s a surprise that fares hadn’t been increased before now.) Mamata was not in favor of fare hikes—at any cost (pun intended).

Differences of opinion are great, right? It encourages debate and leads to the best solution. Well, not with Mamata. Her demand? Trivedi should either rescind the fare hikes—or he should step down from his post. Note that even though Mamata’s party is part of the ruling coalition at the Central government, she herself does not hold any post. She is not a Member of the Parliament. Note also that everyone agrees that the Railways budget, as proposed, is exemplary. Instead of a pat on the back, Mamata is still demanding a resignation.

That brings us to the following news. Trivedi is sticking to his guns. The Telegraph reports:

Railway minister Dinesh Trivedi today stonewalled a Trinamul diktat delivered over the phone to resign immediately, hurled back reasoning based on Parliament’s supremacy and insisted that Mamata write to him — all the while adding that he had no problem stepping down.

He also went about discharging his responsibilities as railway minister, holding a meeting with the Railway Board to boot.

In a separate article, The Telegraph reports:

He hoped Manmohan Singh would not ask him to go: after all, hadn’t Singh given him the go-ahead to prepare a “forward-looking and development-oriented budget”?

Trivedi would, anyway, be in Parliament on Monday for the discussion on the rail budget. Which is why he was in his minister’s chair at the Rail Bhavan on a Saturday afternoon, working on a holiday.

“I held a meeting with my board members to prepare my reply to Parliament over the budget. The budget is a serious thing. I am too busy,” Trivedi said.

Way to go, Mr Trivedi! Mamata cannot do anything officially—her credibility would go down to zero in that case. She just wants to flex her political muscle without really doing anything—and Mr Trivedi is simply not bowing down to pressure.

Hopefully the Prime Minister will stick to his guns too. If Trivedi did a good job, there is no way he should be asked to resign simply because his choices were not pleasing to one person.

The worst sentiment, I think, is this:

West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee accused Trivedi of violating the party discipline and posed a question over his allegiance to the party.

She was displeased that the railway minister had not bothered to intimate the party about his budgetary proposals. “He didn’t talk to me, nor did he talk to Mukul Roy,” said a fumed Mamata. Mamata reminded the legislators that no one was above party. “No one is above party. Any effort to trounce the party line will be firmly dealt with,” she threatened.

Really? What is good for the Railways takes a secondary priority to what is more agreeable to the generic party line? Also—why would Mamata need to be consulted? Any consultation would rightly be with members of the Central government, no?

(Note to Mamata: this is how you lose credibility. Please let this go, and handle this magnanimously. You’re the Chief Minister of a state, and have no business wading into these matters! Also, isn’t it time you learnt to be a little more pragmatic? Yes, price rises are hard for a large section of the population. But price increases are necessary for a healthy rail network! Do you even remember what prices were like a decade ago? Railway fares are still pegged at that level!)

Meanwhile—Mr Trivedi, great going.

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