The past few days have been quite busy for the government. As yet another spiritual leader started yet another “movement” against corruption in the government and bureaucracy, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was at the chic French seaside resort of Cannes, holding discussions with heads of state of the G20 nations on how to deal with the crisis in Greece.
Back home, another petrol price hike left the general public seething as the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party went on the offensive yet again. Singh put up a firm stand when he said that the country should move more in the direction of deregulation. It was a situation he has found himself in regularly during his second term, that of political versus economic compulsions.
Talking about political compulsions, the biggest problem Singh and his government seem to be facing right now is not the opposition or a frustrated middle class bogged down by double-digit inflation and price rise for most food products and essential commodities, but an ally who has been known to have her way within the UPA coalition.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress holds 19 very crucial seats for the ruling alliance in parliament. So when she threatened to walk out of the UPA over the petrol price hike and sought increased communication between the Centre and allies before taking any vital decision, the first order of business for the PM after his return was to meet her and some of her party members.
To say, however, that she could not get a commitment out of him to roll back on the hike and that other allies within the UPA did not share her opinion, would be to miss the point. Even if one discounts the fact that she may have managed to get increased sops for her state out of this meet, the larger issue here is that the Congress finds itself on increasingly shaky ground as state and parliamentary elections come closer.