The Trinamool Congress has dropped loud hints that West Bengal chief
minister Mamata Banerjee is set to attend the swearing-in events of
Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab and Akhilesh Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh in
the middle of the Budget session of Parliament next week.
"Just learnt that Mamatadi will be going to both Lucknow and Chandigarh
for the CM swearing in ceremonies," Trinamool MP Derek O'Brien tweeted on
Saturday night, confirming suggestions from the party camp that Mamata is
"enthused" by the invites from the Akali Dal and the Samajwadi Party that
have their core constituencies outside Bengal.
However, Mamata herself remained non-committal in public during the day.
"Akhono thik korini (we haven't decided yet)," Mamata said in the
afternoon, in response to reporters' questions, after an unscheduled
meeting with Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmed who called on her at
Writers' Buildings. Till then she had received an invitation only from
Badal, a BJP ally.
The invitation later from Akhilesh, the young chief minister-designate in
Uttar Pradesh, appears to have given Mamata the "secular" reason to accept
the goodwill gestures.
As the Samajwadi is considered the protector of minority interests, Mamata
can now say that since she accepted one invitation, she had to treat the
other with the same respect.
Trinamool sources hoped that the Samajawadi parallel would help her blunt
suggestions that Mamata shared the platform with Badal's ally BJP, whose
one-time association had eroded her minority base in Bengal. She won back
the minority support last year but faces another test in the panchayat
polls next year.
Akhilesh had said earlier in the day that Mamata would be invited. Late on
Saturday evening, the invitation arrived at Writers' but Mamata had left
by then, sources said. O'Brien's tweet in the night suggests that the
message has been conveyed to Mamata.
Trinamool sources said Mamata's visits should not be construed as anything
more than a "personal reciprocal gesture". But the attendance is certain
to shovel fuel into speculation about realignments, which has been
swirling since the Assembly poll results were announced earlier this week.
For all of Mamata's reported assurances that she would not rock the UPA's
boat, Ahmed's meeting with her a day after the invite from Badal betrayed
the Congress's jitters.
"If she does accept the invitation, it will set the tone for Trinamool's
approach during the Budget session of Parliament," a Congress leader said
before clearer signals emerged that Mamata is likely to attend. "It would
also suggest that Trinamool could co-operate more with the parties
opposing the UPA."
Mamata may have to skip two key events in Bengal, if she proceeds to
Punjab on March 14 and to Lucknow on March 15. March 14 is the anniversary
of the Nandigram firing and, on March 15, the Budget session of the Bengal
Assembly, already deferred by a day, is scheduled to begin. If both these
events are bypassed (unless she flies in and flies out on two consecutive
days — some Trinamool sources claimed Badal is sending a plane to ferry
Mamata), it will send a strong message to the Congress that she is willing
to invest time and effort in building friendships outside Bengal.
Ahmed, who said he was asked by the Congress central leadership last night
to meet Mamata, tried to play down the invitation from the Akalis. "This
does not worry us. Inviting somebody for a function is not a political
gesture. Politics involves human relationships. This should not be
considered exclusively political," Ahmed said. The Congress, too, was
getting invitations from "certain corners", he said.
Sources in Lucknow said the Samajwadi was toying with a proposal to invite
all national leaders.
At the meeting at Writers', Mamata told Ahmed there was no question of
Trinamool pulling out of the UPA, Congress sources said. The fight for
Bengal's interests should not be seen as anti-Congressism, she was quoted
as saying. The chief minister said her priority was to get a three-year
moratorium on debt repayment from the Centre, the sources said.
- The Telegraph, Calcutta
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