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Key party set to quit India govt protesting reform

Publication Date : 21-09-2012


Indian Trinamool Congress led by Mamata Banerjee is all set to snap its three-year-old ties with the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) but the government seems unfazed by this.

Irked by the federal government's refusal to bow to the demand for the withdrawal of its decision on major economic reforms, Trinamool Congress Chief Mamata Banerjee yesterday said her party's six ministers in the federal cabinet would submit their resignations today to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Relations between the UPA and its ally Trinamool Congress were strained after the central government proposed to hike the diesel price, limit use of subsidised cooking gas and allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector.

Talking to reporters in Kolkata, Mamata ruled out negotiations with the federal government on the issue of FDI in retail and the possibility of sitting with the Congress leadership in Delhi.

"The decision has already been taken," she said, adding the party had sought an appointment with the president today.

Trinamool has six ministers, including one of cabinet rank, in the UPA government.

After Trinamool's exit, the UPA government's strength in parliament will come down to 254 from 273 -- 19 short of majority in the 545-member Lok Sabha (the lower house of Indian parlimanet), and the coalition will be heavily dependent on the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to regain its majority in the House.

The SP and BSP together have 43 lawmakers.

The federal government, however, has not faltered at the threat of instability following Trinamool's decision.

"We had enough friends yesterday, we have enough friends today. So, I don't think you should doubt our stability," Finance Minister and senior Congress leader Palaniappan Chidambaram told reporters in Delhi.

Asked whether the UPA government would look for new allies, he said, "If we can acquire new friends, why would we not?"

India's Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni claimed the government was stable as it had the support of 300 MPs (considering those from SP and BSP) in the Lok Sabha.

However, the UPA's key outside supporter SP Chief Mulayam Singh Yadav appeared to share the concerns of the Left and other parties about the government's "anti-people" policies.

Yadav, who did not join the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders at a protest venue in Delhi yesterday, said the SP was supporting the UPA government only to keep communal forces at bay.

"I have said this several times that we are supporting the government only to stop communal forces [from coming to power]. But we will not tolerate a price rise," he told reporters.

If the UPA government did not backtrack on the recent reforms decision immediately, the parties opposing it would announce a big agitation, Yadav said.

Mamata said the proposals were unrealistic and anti-people.

"You can't sell out your country to foreign direct investment. People will silence the voices of those who are favouring entry of FDI in retail."

The Indian government last Friday unveiled reforms, including allowing FDI in retail, permitting foreign airlines to pick stakes in domestic air carriers and hiking the price of diesel by 12 per cent, one of the steepest in recent times.

Meanwhile, strikes called by the BJP, Left parties and SP in protest at the reforms evoked mixed responses across India yesterday.

Many small business owners and workers fear that the arrival of large-scale supermarket chains like Walmart, Carrefour and Tesco would hamper their businesses and lead to job losses.

Meanwhile, to go ahead with the economic reforms, the government yesterday notified its decision to allow global retail giants like Walmart to open stores in India.

With this notification, multinational retailers can invest up to 51 per cent to open stores in 10 states and federally-administered territories which have so far agreed to implement the decision.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is likely to explain to the nation today the reasons behind the economic reforms.


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