The brinkmanship game has begun

Semi Column

On Friday, Railway Minister Mukul Roy faxed a letter to the Prime Minister seeking a postponement of Saturday's full Planning Commission meet to approve the 12th Plan document. He said he won't be able to make it because he was too busy preparing for a party meeting on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took note of the letter but rescheduled nothing. Just the previous day, the government had chosen not to circulate the Cabinet note on FDI in multi-brand retail to ensure Roy does not feel offended and bunk Cabinet again.

The plan was to table the note at the meeting and test waters. Almost by reflex, Roy shot off a letter saying he would not be able to attend the Cabinet because he was busy with President Pranab Mukherjee's Kolkata visit.

He ended up making it easier for the government. Singh eventually crossed the Trinamool hump without any acrimony in the Cabinet. He knew that all the Congress needed was anyone out of Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamata Banerjee or Mayawati on its side at any given point in time for the government to survive. If so, why was he dithering all this while?

The fact is the government was weighed under its own contradictions. The naysayers within the Congress were well-entrenched. Their line was that government survival was foremost, that running the full course will certify Congress as a better coalition manager than the BJP, and that achieving an "across-the-board consensus" was a "safer" way to move forward on FDI and oil subsidies.

Singh had not found a way around this. Each time he tried, he was given the doomsday scenario. However, the change of guard in North Block brought the onus of political management squarely back on Singh. With a Finance Minister in sync with him, the PM had to make his political moves now.

... contd.

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