Dinesh Trivedi finally makes a mark

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: Dec 6 2011, 09:08am hrs
Early last month, newbie minister of state for home Jitender Singh and former Karnataka Youth Congress president Krishna Byre Gowda travelled to West Bengal on a routine Youth Congress training exercise. The two-day trip was to oversee some training modules and meet new recruits. That was the stated aim of the trip. The more important aim was to meet some Congress workers who had been arrested by the state police as they got into a brawl with Trinamool Congress members. The allies, on their home turf, are at war, and the generals may still be talking, but only just.

The mess that the UPA finds itself in, over the decision to allow 51% foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail is a footnote in this war. It was also an avoidable battle with Trinamool, whatever reformists may say about its importance in the overall reforms story.

The government announced something, and had to backtrack. All the good men in Manmohan Singhs Cabinet did not hear out the affable Dinesh Trivedi, who finally, it is said, lost his cool at commerce minister Anand Sharma and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, even storming out of the Cabinet meeting (but that depends on whose version you hear).

When the story of this term of the UPA is written, Trivedis will turn out to be an interesting chapter. Quite contrary to his own way of thinking, Trivedi executed the perfect loyal party soldier routine to oppose FDI in retail.

The first time this columnist was introduced to the current railway minister, he was waxing eloquent on the sublime consolations of Sufi music. His perfectly put-together ensemble of designer kurtas made him stand out in Parliament, if not his status as the sole representative of the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha in 2004. His background in first the Janata Dal in the late 1980s and a brief stint with the Congress in Rajiv Gandhis time ensured that he knew everyone and everyone knew him.

Most people are vague when you ask them about just what it is that Trivedi does. For the record, he is a businessman, whose family has been based in Kolkata. His early career was in the shark-infested waters of corporate America, but he returned to India, much before it was fashionable and, before these recessionary times, even advisable.

As Mamata Banerjees man here, he has steadily gained her confidence. This was demonstrated by the fact that when Banerjee moved to Kolkata as West Bengal chief minister, she elevated Trivedi to Cabinet rank in Delhi, to succeed her as railway minister. It was an unprecedented honour for Trivedi, as his colleague Sudeip Bandopadhyaya was sacked from the Trinamool during the NDA regime for holding the same ambition.

Trivedi, on his part, has been loyal to the core. When he met some victims of a railway accident, as minister, his consoling words were expressed on behalf of Banerjee, rather than himself.

While Banerjee and Trivedi have worked out a synergy, it is a mystery why the Congress is so slow to get it. When Banerjee expressed her partys anguish at the fuel price hike, saying that Trivedi was being ignored in the Union Cabinet, the Congress should have taken a cue.

The Congress may be upset with the Trinamool for targeting its workers in West Bengal, reformists may consider her narrowly parochial in her concerns, but they have to learn to forge a working relationship with her. She has signalled her desire to do business with Delhi by putting the only man in her team comfortable with Delhi in the top job here. Deal with him not as Dinesh Trivedi, first time Cabinet minister, but what he really is, Banerjees go-to guy in Delhi. As for Congress-Trinamool clashes in West Bengal, there are many ways to skin a chicken, not least of which is to fight another day.