Didi's poor political maths

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The Trinamool Congress chief, Ms Mamata Banerjee’s rigid stance on rail fare hikes shows her lack of vision.
The Trinamool Congress chief, Ms Mamata Banerjee’s rigid stance on rail fare hikes shows her lack of vision.

The Government could ride out double-digit inflation without serious questions being raised about its stability and its right to govern. So, would rail fare increases pose a threat to the ruling alliance, or to Ms Mamata Banerjee?

Developments since the Railway Budget was submitted last week suggest that the Trinamool Congress Chief, Ms Mamata Banerjee, might have reacted in haste in asking for Mr Dinesh Trivedi's resignation.

If her opposition to a hike in passenger fares is merely ideological, as some of her party colleagues are at pains to point out, then holding on to such rigid principles (no fare hike under any circumstances) in the face of a tacit political consensus across the spectrum demonstrates a certain lack of visionary thinking.

If, on the other hand, she did anticipate a popular political backlash to the move and therefore stepped in quickly to prevent the thing getting out of hand, then it shows a certain incapacity to read the signs from the political tea leaves.

Evidence of such a consensus was already in place even on the day the Budget was presented. If one reads through the statements of the Left and the BJP, it is possible to sense that the apparent opposition to fare hikes is a lot more nuanced than might seem at first sight.

Tacit consensus

The BJP took objection primarily to what it regarded as a subterfuge in presenting the fare hike proposal rather than the hikes themselves. Its objection was to the hike being described as so many paise per km of travel which, in its view, and quite rightly too, tended to obscure the 10-20 per cent hikes in different classes of travel.

The CPM too, for its part, presented its reaction more in the tone of a lament rather than the shrill rhetoric that it usually employs while opposing a policy move.

It spoke of how the hike would add to the burden of the common man. In other words, it chose to describe the impact of the hike (the burden on the travelling public was a given, in any case) rather than stake a clear political stance as in demanding its withdrawal, or hint at launching an agitation if it is not conceded.

If any proof of the mood of resignation permeating the Opposition ranks as a whole was needed, the same could be found in the recent response of the Railway trade unions representing the broadest spectrum of political affiliations.

They have clearly opposed any rollback of hikes and as a concession to political correctness added that if it were to be effected, then there should be a matching subsidy from the exchequer.

Held by common interests

I am not saying that neither the BJP nor the Left would forswear any attempt at destabilising the Government, should an opportunity present itself in the course of the vote on the President's Address to Parliament or during the debate on the Railway and the general Budget.

You can count on them to bring up the subject of railway fare hikes and demand its rollback on the ground that they are anti-poor if that would embarrass the Government, or better still, even result in its overthrow.

It is just that Ms Banerjee might have stayed her hand, with regard to the minister's removal or rolling back the hikes in passenger fares just that bit longer.

Circumstances were clearly such that she might have ridden out the consequences of what is, undoubtedly, a politically unpalatable move and yet by no means could she be accused of being prone to committing political harakiri.

In part, her action might perhaps be explained as stemming from her temperament and a sense of insecurity with regard to her hold on power in her home State of Paschimbanga as West Bengal is now known as.

But it must also be attributed to her lack of appreciation of how political parties conduct themselves as a coalition possessing common interests in promoting the same.

The existence of Railways as a thriving institution in the public sector promotes the political and monetary interests of a coalition of parties belonging to diverse ideologies. They share common interests in recruitment of personnel, procurement of goods and services and disposal of scrap.

The distribution of benefits may not be equal. But none of the members that constitute this coalition of political interests see the actual distribution as inequitable. They have, therefore, every incentive to stay together to see to it that distributional benefits from Railways continue to flow.

In the event, their collective action to prevent its sliding into financial ruin can be guaranteed. A shroud of uncertainty has descended over this compact due to the precarious nature of Railways' operations and its finance.

Off the talent track

It is now well documented that Railways has suffered a gradual decline in the quality of the managerial talent available to it.

The political and ideological preferences of those at the top, in strategic decision making, tended to reinforce the adverse consequences of managerial degradation to such an extent they have resulted in pushing the Railways to the brink of an abyss.

Political parties have instinctively grasped this so as to temper their response to the fare hikes and something that has also found an echo in the response of the trade unions to the fare hikes.

Let's face it. The last two years saw an unprecedented increase in the price of food articles.

The price index had moved up from 130 on an average in 2009-10 to 143 in 2010-11, an increase of 10 per cent. The current year too is unlikely to fare any better, with annual inflation running at close to the same level as last year.

The Government could ride out double-digit inflation in the economy without serious questions being raised about its stability and the right to govern.

Therefore, should fare increases, and that too when they had been stable for a decade, pose an existential threat to the present ruling alliance at the Centre or, for that matter, Ms Banerjee's hold over Paschimbanga?

It is a pity that Ms Banerjee lost sight of it. In the process, it does now look almost certain that she would have to let go of a chance to continue to exploit the administrative talents of someone like Mr Trivedi in her ranks.

(This article was published on March 18, 2012)
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India govt. under Mr. MM Singh is of typical Indian business man, make profit by hiking fares or any commodity, the shortcut method of huge profit, instead of tackling corruption, and higher passenger volume.

from:  kolkata
Posted on: Mar 18, 2012 at 21:56 IST


from:  B A DESAI
Posted on: Mar 18, 2012 at 22:08 IST

It is a pity that Mamatajee could not resist the temptation to assert
her grip on her party. In demanding and obtaining the resignation of
the Railway Minister she might feel that she established her supremacy
on her party but she did untold harm to the nation and its gigantic
railway system. Populism prevailed at the cost of the Nation. Now, if
she has any sense of right and wrong, she can still save the situation
for herself, Indian railways and the country by leaving it to the
Prime Minister to accept this resignation when he considers it
appropriate. That will deffuse the situation to some extent. During
the past few days Shri Trivedi won more friends from diverse fields
(including the railway unions) than, perhaps, he ever had. Mamatajee
has also earned but only that many critics. Let us hope, she realizes
that and puts her ego aside for better future.

from:  T K S MURTHY
Posted on: Mar 18, 2012 at 22:22 IST

In my personal view, what Mr. Dineshh Trivedi has done was the demand
of the time. The financial position is now alarming in Indian Railway.
Not enough fund is there for implementing commitment anounced by Ms
Banerjee during her tenure. No private partners have come forward to
work with Railway from where she expected the generation of inflow of
funds. There was no option but to increase fare rationally.
But one thing, what Mr. Dineshh Trivedi has made a mistake is that he
should have taken Mr. Banerjee (her leader and who has sent him to
parliament and allowed to function as Railway Minister) into his
confidence before placing the budget in the parliament. He should not
use the word ('ICU') in public which has directly gone against her
leader's performance and that made her furious.Otherwise his ministry
was not at stake. He is genuinely a soft spoken gentleman, well
behaved, well educated, able and fittest person no doubt.

Posted on: Mar 18, 2012 at 22:38 IST

My Country has lost a visionary in Dinesh Trivedi.

from:  Welsey Titus
Posted on: Mar 18, 2012 at 22:39 IST

But ignoring and turning a bad nose to her leader made him to go. It is
unfortunate to us. By negotiation, an acceptable solution might have
come up like not touching the fares of lower classes i.e. suburban
trains, General class, Sleeper classes(up to 150Kms) etc. Daily poor
commuters and terminally poor citizens who have no option but to avail
this services are really getting effected adversely.

Posted on: Mar 18, 2012 at 22:49 IST

The author himself has done very poor Math, he deserves a 'F'.

A very poorly written and argued article which does not even address the core issues of the Indian Railways.

The fare increase proposed by Mr. Trivedi did not address the key issue affecting the finances & operation of the Railways - namely a sharp rise in the labor cost, low labor productivity, continuing waste ( of expensive Diesel fuel ) and fraud ( by the Bihari officials & Contractors left behind by Lalloo ).

from:  Dr Dev Gupta
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 02:48 IST

EGOISTIC DIDI.. makes govt maliable to go for unseen subsidies thus
burdening on other hand. let her know we should march ahead but not
stand still at point

from:  Prasad
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 05:45 IST

The reaction of Mamta Banerjee is contradictory and totally absurd. On
the one hand, she has termed the hike in Excise Duty and Service tax as
"tolerable" and on the other hand, she has demanded the resignation of
Trivedi on the small increase in rail fares. The hikes in Excise duty
and Service tax will affect the common man much more than the hike in
railway fares.

from:  Ram Awatar Garodia
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 06:48 IST

Quite painful to see common voter being fooled by Didi. Didi is silent on daylight robbery by increasing in ST & Excise and funding of Air India and Banks; but is very sensitive to Rail fares. Leaders wake up, you would get more votes if you talk about misuse of tax payers money for funding Air India and Banks. Leaders wake up and put the responsibility on Senior civil servants and others heading Banks and Govt bodies to use the tax-payers-money given to them more productively.

from:  Ram
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 11:24 IST

Mamata should understand that fare hike is necessary for developement. Otherwise Bengal would not be such a poor state. People hardly travel 1-2 times in a month so hike wont put lot of pressure. If shes so concerned about common people, why dont she become agressive on corruption issues..this is just poor vote bank politics.

from:  Ajay
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 14:27 IST

The real reason of Mamta's opposition to Trivedi was that Trivedi may not have spent
enough Railway money on W Bengal. She cannot raise enough money to spend by
herself for state's social programs but wants Center and and Railways to be the big
daddy to give her spending money. It is very easy to be a populist if you don't have
to be pay for it. She has a poor temprament to be a good leader.

from:  Gidhdristi
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 14:33 IST

this is why india is still under developed....the politicians like
mamata should be thrown out....all regional parties should be banned to
avoid vote bank politics....

from:  indian
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 14:33 IST

i think by increasing the fare after 10 year ,he did took the right step
... Indian railway need huge investment in term of infrastructure and
also in term of modernization . The step taken by mr trivedi would have
really help in real sing this dream true but in our country if somebody
who really want to do somethings is pulled by many people.

from:  anand
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 14:53 IST

I supported Mamata Banerjee during Assembly Election in West Bengal and it was great moment for people of WB that after a long time they could remove MACCU party. But for last 9 months after having seen all nuisances’ comments and activities from her, I have been left with no option (sorry for the comment) but to consider her as politically immature and brainless. It seems the most intellectual state got a most un-intellectual CM.

from:  Rajat Sanyal
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 15:08 IST

Not many would have done what Trivedi did. Knowing pretty well what the whole episode might lead to(Given the antics of Mamata in the past including the threat of suicide in front of the Calcutta public !). His budget could not be termed a populist one .May be he did this to supplement the the General Budget which was to follow suit,(perhaps on an assurance by Pranab Mukherjee to step in and save him before the lioness devoured him). A shrewd politician he is and let us hope that he is around for sometime.

from:  C P VIJAYAN
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 15:24 IST

Mr Kolkata,
You seem to be among the lot of Indians, who want all the facilities but don't want to pay for it. Given a chance, you would even want to Railways to give away free tickets for passengers, citing social obligations. Agreed there is corruption at every level even in the Railways. But the fact also is that train fares in India, especially the second class, are ridiculously low. Look at other countries, like UK, France where train services are relatively much better than in India, and one reason is people there are willing to pay a high price for it. Its like the Hindi saying goes -- Itne paise main itna hi milega. You will only get cheap service, if you want it cheap too.

from:  DaScribe
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 15:41 IST

We need some one like Margret Thatcher strong and knows ground realities , doesn't bend back for some political gain that's the need of hour.

from:  vishal
Posted on: Mar 19, 2012 at 16:41 IST

Mamata Banerjee is a nuisance. First it was rasta roko's, rail roko's and bandh's in
Calcutta. Then she screwed the Nano project and now she is screwing the Railways. It
is time that people kicked her out of office!

from:  Amit
Posted on: Mar 20, 2012 at 00:38 IST

Didi.. Please put your country before ego and senseless populistic

from:  Guest
Posted on: Mar 20, 2012 at 06:29 IST

Sampath Kumar and other elite media runs campaign against people who
are not suave, urbane and their dislike for subsidy for poor is well
known. The same writers would not question subsidy for Air India and
cheap loans and tax defaults of Kingfisher, IPL, etc. because they
benefit from using these services.

Didi is bang on target when she says that raising Rs 4000 croer
through fare hike would not suffcie to modernise railways or improve
safety of railways.

Politicians like Didi with no assets amassed by remaining in politics
are rare and obviously media does not like them because they will not
shower benefit on media companies.

from:  sathya
Posted on: Mar 20, 2012 at 06:48 IST

Her tolerance to hikes in service tax and excise duty and opposition
to the hike in railway fares exposes her absolutely poor knowledge on
economics. Always well calibrated periodic increase is essential as
otherwise at a stage like this, a huge hike will be needed to support
the sagging finances. The railway finances have been systematically
destroyed in the past ten years by the self aggrandising program of
Lallu and Mamatha. Hike is a bitter pill unavoidable in a dynamic
economy. As for MMS, he may be against the demand but congress party,
hungry and thirsty for power, has compromised the economy to the
unfair demand of an obstinate partner who has little knowledge of
economics and least concerned about the future of the county

from:  adithyan
Posted on: Mar 20, 2012 at 19:35 IST

Indian Railways is an another Air India in the making. Thanks to all the
people who play petty politics instead of addressing the real issues
like safety, amenities, cleanliness. The end result the passengers at
loss due to the pathetic service offered by the railways.

from:  Ajit
Posted on: Mar 21, 2012 at 04:19 IST
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