Fight over Indian rail ticket prices turns nasty
India's already chaotic government was thrown into more disarray Thursday after the rail minister was reprimanded by his own party after announcing a small fare hike.
The fighting exposes rifts inside the Trinamool Congress party, a powerful regional group that controls the rail ministry and heads the government in the state of West Bengal. The group has grown increasingly rebellious against the Congress-led government's legislative agenda, leading to fears it could bolt the governing coalition and force an early election.
Railways Minister Dinesh Trivedi announced the first railway fare hike in eight years Wednesday, only to be shot down moments later by Congress party leader Mamata Banerjee, a populist politician who said she would not allow any fare hike in the 600 billion rupee ($12 billion) rail budget.
On Thursday, Banerjee sent a message to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asking him to dump Trivedi and replace him with another party lawmaker.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told Parliament that Singh had yet to decided whether to replace Trivedi.
Arun Jaitley of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and Basudeb Acharia of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) called the situation absurd.
Parliament was later adjourned after opposition lawmakers disrupted the proceedings to protest what they said was a weak government unfit to run the country.
Singh's government has been weakened by a series of corruption scandals, poor showings in local elections and rebellions among small coalition partners.
Rail experts have said India's huge rail network is desperately in need of funds for infrastructure and safety upgrades.