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Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with PM Modi

March 13, 2015

Why should the irrepressible Mamata Banerjee boast after the meeting that Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised her state government? Even if Modi did, then why should the chief of the West Bengal unit of Modi’s party – the Bharatiya Janata Party – repudiate such claims? Or, in retrospect, why can’t a meeting between Mamata and Modi, that took place in Parliament House on 9 March, simply be seen as one between a state chief minister and the Prime Minister?

Mamata Banerjee meeting with PM Modi

Much of history is attached to these questions and mere insinuations are not enough to dissect the confabulations between the two combative leaders.

Mamata’s no-holds-barred attack on Modi

After all, merely ten months ago, the intemperate West Bengal CM had had no scruples calling Modi names. From branding the then BJP’s PM face as “paper tiger”, to mocking him as “Hanuman…(who) has put on a tail, he’s flying around burning Lankas everywhere,” she was at her vituperative best when she asked the crowd in one of her election rallies in the run up to the general elections last year that whether Modi was a “donkey.

But this was not enough! She even wanted Modi to be sent to jail “by tying a rope around his waist” for allegedly trying to instigate caste-based violence in West Bengal before the general elections.

That was a period of a no-holds-barred attack on Modi and the latter did emerge as her favourite punching bag at a time when even she nurtured certain degree of Prime Ministerial ambition (Remember the anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare pitching for her as the next PM?). Not surprising therefore that she found fault with well almost everything related to Modi. Consider what she said at one of her election rallies in Titagarh (West Bengal) on 9 May last year –

“Modi for PM fund is illegal…Who is giving this money…We will write to the Election Commission…”

“See the enormity of the riots in Gujarat when little children and the women were burnt alive… If they (read Modi and the BJP) come to power, they will sell the nation and incite riots…”

“People of all faiths, caste, creed live together in peace in Bengal. This makes ‘Danga Babu’ (loosely translated, Mr Riot – read Modi) very jealous and angry…”

There was a definite design in her tirade against Modi, the then Gujarat Chief Minister who had failed to control the infamous Gujarat riots of 2002 when he was at the helm in the state. Mamata’s diatribes were meant to address the sizeable about 25 per cent Muslim votes in her state.
Yet the ferocity of her attacks on Modi was virulent and a subdued Modi could then only blabber “…Just tell me which jail I have to go…My first job in jail will be to learn the Bengali language”.

Not anymore! Modi triumphed in the general elections and emerged as a powerful prime minister, though Mamata’s tactics did reap rich dividends for her as her party, the All India Trinamool Congress, won 34 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in West Bengal (the party had won 19 seats in 2009).

The BJP-Mamata hate relationship has since then only continued to grow. Consider how the growing clashes between the workers of both sides resulted in deaths of three BJP workers in Birbhum district of the state in October last year. It reached a crescendo thereafter when the state police, on 30 October, arrested the BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi and the state party president Rahul Sinha in Birbhum where they had gone at the instructions of the BJP president Amit Shah on a fact finding mission.

The war between the two continued and was there for everyone to see. Consider that Mamata skipped the first meeting of the NITI Aayog chaired by the PM last month and her state went unrepresented as she did not approve of Modi’s decision to dismantle the Planning Commission and replace it with the new body.

Consider that in the about last ten months, the only time that she and Modi met was an accidental meeting at Rashtrapati Bhavan in December last year. She kept avoiding Modi for the last nine months!

So when she met him this time, it was not just a twenty minute one-to-one meeting, but she also led a big delegation of 40 members of Parliament from her state. No doubt, she had come pressing hard for the waiver of state’s debts (The state reels under about Rs two lakh crore loans taken by the previous left government), as well as lobby for Rs two lakh fifty five thousand crore that West Bengal is supposed to get from the fourteenth Finance Commission from 2015 to 2020.

Does Mamata still have a soft corner for NDA?

Mamata’s posturing was confusing. Why should Mamata require an endorsement of her work from Modi of all the persons? Does it signal some sorts of truce between the two warring satraps at a time when the government is making an all out effort to push its controversial land bill in the Rajya Sabha. (The AITMC has 11 MPs in the Upper House)?

Mamata, despite being highly volatile, is known for some hard bargaining in the past. She also had a long stint with the National Democratic Alliance and was even a cabinet minister in the then PM Atal Behari Vajpayee cabinet.

So does it imply that she still has a soft corner for the NDA? The Left has already dubbed her meeting the prime minister as ‘Ghar Wapasi (home coming)’ – a jargon lifted from the Hindu brigade’s much debated ‘reconversion’ drive which was widely touted as ‘ghar wapasi’ and its swipe at her cannot be unfounded.

Already the heat is on her following the Saradha chit fund scam wherein the Central Bureau of Investigation is tightening its noose around her government. The Left is missing no opportunity to discredit her by terming the West Bengal government as a “scamster Trinamool Congress” government.

With the state elections due next year, Mamata is also mindful of the inroads that the BJP has made in her state. (In the general elections the BJP had doubled its tally and won two LS seats in West Bengal and its vote share jumped by 11.14 per cent. In the assembly by-elections that followed, the Lotus further won a seat and came a close second in another to make an entry into the West Bengal House only for the second time in the entire history of the state legislature).

With the political equations fast changing in her state, can Modi and Mamata bury hatchets and join hands? Modi has already praised Mamata. He had praised her also in his maiden speech in Parliament and had even offered the Chairmanship of very important Public Accounts Committee to Trinomool.

But has Mamata blinked? One thing is clear though. During the meeting, she did extend her invitation to Modi to visit her state! Hopefully, the invectives will stop flowing now!

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Disclaimer: The views expressed are of those of the author and do not represent the views of Elections.in.

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