Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh faced a difficult situation on Thursday night when Railway Minister Mamta Banerjee prepared to walk out of the Cabinet meeting in a huff. Dr Singh at once persuaded Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to bring her back and convince her that she would be heard.
The issue was over the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Bill -- both issues that could impact her prospects in West Bengal's assembly polls in 2012 and both of which she was fiercely opposed to.
As she kept up her opposition to the issue, sources said she was provoked by remarks from Rural Development Minister C P Joshi, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and Human Resources Minister Kapil Sibal, even as other senior ministers tried to convince her not to get too agitated over the issue.
The meeting ended at 8.55 pm, after 45 minutes of drama over Banerjee sulking that she was not being consulted when important bills and amendments were being brought before the Cabinet. At this point, one minister said she should not spend so much time in Kolkata, which made her angrier.
Banerjee then collected her papers and prepared to leave the Cabinet meeting in a huff, in full sight of the Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrasekhar and other officials, before she was pacified by Mukherjee.
Dr Singh has since instructed the Cabinet Secretary not to place too many controversial items before one Cabinet meeting. Thursday's meeting, for instance, had 25 items on the agenda.
As the meeting wound up, senior ministers were heard commenting that food security was more serious than internal security and would dominate Indian politics in another two or three years, after Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Agriculture Secretary T Nandkumar briefed the Cabinet on the monsoon and food security. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia was totally supportive of the measures taken by Krishi Bhavan over the monsoon contingency plans.
Defence Minister A K Antony and Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh also opposed the free trade agreement with ASEAN countries which is scheduled to be signed in October, Jairam speaking at length and being supported by many senior ministers.