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Wednesday, May 30, 2001

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Buddhadeb, Mamata to call on Vajpayee

By Malabika Bhattacharya

CALCUTTA, MAY 29. The West Bengal Chief Minister and CPI(M) leader, Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, and the Trinamool Congress chief, Ms. Mamata Banerjee, will be visiting New Delhi at the same time to meet almost identical sets of people for different causes over the next few days.

Mr. Bhattacharjee, who left for New Delhi tonight, will pay courtesy calls on the President, Mr. K.R. Narayanan, the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B.Vajpayee, and the Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani. All three of them readily agreed to meet him when he sought an audience with them to present Bengal-specific economic and social issues for the consideration of the Centre. Mr. Bhattacharjee will also participate in the CPI(M)'s two-day central committee meeting in Delhi beginning tomorrow.

Ms. Banerjee is visiting Delhi from tomorrow and is slated to call on the same set of people in the next few days. She will also meet the Congress president, Ms. Sonia Gandhi.

Ms. Banerjee's objective is very different from Mr. Bhattacharjee's. She and 19 Trinamool functionaries, including MPs and newly-elected MLAs, will present before the President, the Prime Minister and the Home Minister ``documents'' to show that the Leftists have returned to office by ``rigging'' the May 10 State Assembly election.

The speculation here and in Delhi suggests that Ms. Banerjee has something more on her agenda than just the lodging of allegations of rigging against the Leftists. She is expected to sound out the Bharatiya Janata Party's central leadership about her possible return to the BJP-run National Democratic Alliance(NDA) Government at the Centre. Right now, Ms. Banerjee is under great pressure from a large section of the Trinamool functionaries to re-join the NDA as the alliance with the Congress had been far from beneficial. Many of the defeated Trinamool candidates complained to Ms. Banerjee that the Congress had ``backstabbed'' them and even supported the Leftist nominees.

According to sources, Ms. Banerjee does not have much option but to explore the possibility of returning to the NDA as the pro-NDA lobby in the party might otherwise shift its allegiance to the Trinamool's rebel MP, Mr. Ajit Panja, who has already put a foot forward to join the NDA.

The sources point out that Ms. Banerjee and her aides would, in the next few days, meet various BJP, NDA and Congress leaders to assess the political configurations in the coming days against the backdrop of the coming election in Uttar Pradesh.

A section of the Trinamool functionaries led by Mr.Sudip Bandopadhyay, MP, considered Ms. Banerjee's confidant, is of the view that the party would do well not to hurry back to the NDA but have the Congress as its ally till the U.P. poll when the BJP's position would become fairly clear.

The pro-NDA lobby, however, dismissed this view, saying the party would positively miss the NDA bus if it waits that long. By that time, it argues, the Congress would be holding the Leftists' hands for political compulsions at the national level and Trinamool would find itself friendless.

Ms. Banerjee is also expected to figure out the possibility of some of the NDA partners such as the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) pulling out of the alliance causing the Vajpayee Government's fall. In the event of such a situation, the Trinamool can always hope to become a part of a Congress-led coalition's bid for power.

Ms. Banerjee will only hurry to return to the NDA if she finds that there is still some hope for her to become the Railway Minister again. As long as such a situation does not arise, she may not consider going beyond extending support from the outside to the NDA.

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