TMC MP makes clear that Mamata is not attending swearing-in

Both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party were apparently on tenterhooks in the wake of reports speculating on Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee attending the swearing-in of the Punjab and Uttar Pradesh Chief Ministers, belonging to the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Samajwadi Party respectively.

While the Congress reacted sharply without waiting for confirmation of the possibility of her actually crossing the Lakshman Rekha, the BJP did not seem sure of her moves or of rumours of formation of a new third front.

Hours before TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O'Brien put the speculation to rest, saying Ms. Banerjee would remain in Kolkata and attend the Governor's address to the Assembly, Congress spokesman Abhishek Singhvi had said her attending the functions in Chandigarh and Lucknow would amount to immorality.

According to reports, Ms. Banerjee has instead decided to depute one Minister each to the ceremonies.

Mr. Singhvi regarded the eventuality of her attending the swearing-in of Parkash Singh Badal as Punjab Chief Minister on Wednesday as going beyond the normal boundaries of social courtesy for, the SAD is a BJP ally. The SP extends outside support to the Congress-led UPA at the Centre.

Mr. Singhvi's remark underscores the desperation of the Congress, whose party-in charge of West Bengal Shakeel Ahmed rushed to Kolkata and had a talk with Ms. Banerjee on Saturday but failed to break the ice on the issue.

He, however, toned down his rhetoric later on learning about Ms. Banerjee's decision not to attend the swearing-in.

On the other hand, the BJP maintained, after its Parliamentary Party Executive meeting, that it was willing to discuss at an NDA meeting the issue of expanding the alliance, and formation of a third front as was being floated in certain quarters.

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar of the Janata Dal(United), an ally of the BJP, had stressed the need for expanding the NDA and formation of a third front. Senior BJP leader S.S. Ahluwalia said his party was not averse to discussing the idea at the meeting of the NDA.

The JD(United) has made common cause with the Trinamool, the AIADMK and the BJP in attacking the UPA on various national issues, giving an impression that these subjects are providing a rallying point for regional forces.

On the swearing-in ceremony issue, Mr. Ahluwalia said Mr. Badal had invited all non-Congress leaders. But he was unaware of Ms. Banerjee's changed decision.

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