Dinesh Trivedi is a bold man. He knew what he was getting into when he presented a budget for the Railways by nominally raising the ticket fares to the amounts of 10 to 30 paisa per kilometer. The night before his budget presentation, he must have given it a deep and hard thought.
Like a true statesman in a country of minions, he had to make a choice between balancing his executive responsibilities as the Cabinet Minister of a massive enterprise and his role as a member of a political party prone to idiosyncratic populism. He chose the former. He made a conscious decision of going with the fare increase to bring the Railways back to a fiscally healthy track so that the extra revenue generated could be channelled towards the much-needed infrastructural development for the Railways, which would enhance safety measures and save scores of lives lost in freak railway accidents every year.
Understandably, he decided not to inform his party members about his budgetary decision as the chief executive of Indian Railways as no rules require him to do so. Like a free-acting executive he went ahead and presented the budget in Parliament. In his budget speech, he painstakingly explained his justifications with occasional obeisance to his party supremo Mamata Banerjee. I think he had anticipated that Mamata Banerjee would explode and obliterate his Cabinet position in the ministry. Yet he still took the risk. In any leadership development and management school parleys such qualities are hailed and encouraged. But not in Indian politics.
Mamata Banerjee is an obsessive compulsive populist of the N.T. Rama Rao kind. Eminent scholar Ernesto Laclau suggests that populism usually includes contrasting components such as a claim for equality of political rights and universal participation for the common people, but fused with some sort of authoritarianism often under charismatic leadership. Mamata, like a true populist, does not fall into any Right/Left dichotomy; she uses her individualistic charisma/penchant for drama to subdue independent voices within her political outfit. She makes socialist demands for the common people yet has no toleration for diversity of opinion. Unlike all populist movements before her, Trinamool Congress would have no second rung of leaders in the making and the fortune of the party, or a movement if we may loosely call it, would make and break with its founder leader. Under such circumstances, any homo-economicus rational voice could pose threats to Mamata’s basic operating vagueness, and she would most likely use populism to throttle any rational decision making.
Barely the ink on the budget proposal even dried, Mamata Banerjee had publicly declared war against the hitherto innocuous Dinesh Trivedi and called for his resignation. Showing no modicum of respect or consideration, she did not even lend her ear to the beleaguered minister whose only fault was to think in favor of the Railways. Mamata did not even dither to name her Eichmann Mukul Roy as a replacement candidate for Trivedi within hours of the later’s budget presentation. In the murky waters of Indian politics this sets precedent where a sitting Railways Cabinet Minister could not last the duration when his budget could be at least debated in the Parliament.
Mentionable here, the Indian Constitution provides the Prime Minister with powers to defend his Cabinet against such political pressure tactics. When the Constitution was framed, India did not have a fractious coalition that it does today, however, the makers of the Constitution did clairvoyantly vested some executive power with the Prime Minister’s office that allowed him to stand up for his fellow Cabinet members and at least defend him in the Parliament. Sadly enough, looks like Manmohan Singh has chosen not to exercise this right and will meekly accept Dinesh Trivedi’s ignominious resignation.
I am not surprised by that though, as over the last seven years Manmohan has clearly established himself to be a timid politician who lacks statesman-like superego. He incessantly gives into the pressure tactics of despotic mass leaders such as Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee. Manmohan likes to skirt responsibilities and hide behind fall guys when troubles prop up. He has no allegiance from his Cabinet as the incumbent Railway Minister and then MoS Mukul Roy had openly defied his order to visit certain victims of a railway accident a couple of years ago.
I feel sorry for Dinesh Trivedi who finds himself working under such double whammy of horrible bosses as Manmohan and Mamata. He deserves better, and by getting out with pride he will hopefully find himself in a better place than the Railway Ministry. May god place him around definitiveness and reason.