For all practical purposes, Mamata has lost this battle she sprang on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The government is not going to roll back the hike in fuel prices, as she had demanded.
When the government increased the price of petrol by Rs 1.82, the Bengal chief minister threatened to withdraw support for the UPA. She was the champion of the common citizen again, taking up a cause the other allies of the coalition had ignored. If there was one party that looked serious about bringing down fuel prices, it was the Trinamool Congress. The CPM, the long-entrenched party she defeated to come to power, was sceptical, but media observers were convinced she would wrangle at least a partial rollback of the petrol price hike.
In earlier instances, the centre has taken such threats seriously, since the Trinamool Congress, with 18 MPs, is a major partner of the central coalition. (The other major alliance partner, the DMK, is discredited and weak, with two of its top leaders lodged in Tihar jail). Any withdrawal of the sort threatened by Mamata would have meant the central government would become unstable.
Some think Manmohan Singh defeated Mamata Banerjee decisively by lecturing to her against governments interfering in fuel prices. A party that had threatened to pull out was, towards the end of this episode, making sheepish noises about how it wouldn't tolerate another hike. Derek O'Brien, spokesman for Mamata's party, told a TV channel the Trinamool Congress would withdraw from the coalition if the government increased diesel, kerosene and LPG prices. That meant, as the show anchor pointed out, the party wouldn't do anything if the price of petrol continued to rise!
While her MPs were meeting Manmohan Singh in Delhi, Mamata met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Kolkata and placed a demand for more central aid. That didn't bring her much help either. She may have used the rollback demand as a chip to gain more central aid, but that strategy hasn't paid off either.
So what do the stakes look like after her gamble? While Mamata may have strengthened her image as someone willing to stick her neck out for a people's cause, and may reap some benefits in the upcoming municipal elections, she may have lost some ground in Delhi, now that she has backtracked on her threat to withdraw from the UPA. FirstPost reported that she had, with her latest tantrum, unwittingly brought Sharad Pawar's NCP and the Congress closer.
The Trinamool Congress, many say, still has to come to terms with its new status as a ruling party. Mamata has the reputation of being a storm-trooper, and her tempestuous ways have won her significant gains, but being in power calls for less rage and more savvy. (But then, you could also argue for more frankness and less machination). As one in power in Bengal who also shares power at the centre (her party retains the railways portfolio), she can't afford to let her whims rule, or so many think.
The case of Mamata barging into a police station to free two of her party members accused of rioting is being cited as an example of her lack of maturity. She will be watched closely for what she does in the next few months, but questions are being asked: Has she overplayed her hand? Are her threats less scary to Manmohan now?
* CPM slams Mamata for police station act (India Today)
* Trinamool MPs complain to PM about 'lack of co-ordination'
* Mamata was in power when fuel price was deregulated: CPM
* Mamata, Shah Rukh bond at Kolkata film festival (DNA)
* The making of Mamata Banerjee (Hindustan Times)