|From Raja to Mamata|
|Tuesday, 20 March 2012 15:50|
UPA responsible for policies, not allies
Now that railway minister Dinesh Trivedi has decided to put in his papers well within Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee’s deadline to the government, the question is whether the Prime Minister will allow Mamata’s new nominee minister to roll back the fare hikes or whether, like the BJP’s Sushma Swaraj, he will insist the railway budget is the property of the house. If the past is an indicator, chances are the new railway minister will roll back the hikes, in which case all you have of the railway budget is some grandiose vision statements that have no hope of getting implemented. The UPA will have survived another scare, and apologists will argue that the first priority of any reformer is to survive; and now that the government has survived, it will take decisive action on, for instance, oil subsidies. The lower budget outlay for oil subsidies will be cited as proof on intent, never mind that, if the low budget outlay is anything to go by, the finance minister showed even greater intent last year when his oil subsidy outlay was just R23,640 crore.
It then appears the Congress’s defiance was only aimed at gaining a few days of breathing space, so the Union Budget didn’t get tarred with a populist anti-reforms tag that Trivedi’s sacking would have resulted in. As it happened, the finance minister didn’t really need to fear on that count since, on its own, the Union Budget got more than the usual criticism for being short on vision, ultra-aggressive in terms of tax target and anti-private sector not just in terms of the retrospective tax amendments going all the way back to 1962 but also in terms of favouring PSUs over the private sector in the infrastructure space (http://www.financialexpress.com/news/fe-editorial-can-only-bond-with-psus/925332/).
Which takes us back to the fundamental question that has dogged the UPA since, in its first avatar, A Raja issued his licences in the beginning of 2008: is there a collective Cabinet responsibility for decisions/legislations like the 2G licences/railway budget, or is policymaking the exclusive preserve of allies who get portfolios on the basis of the number of MPs they have? Proportional representation, as it were? A Raja and the DMK certainly believed this to be true. So does Mamata Banerjee.