Backed by a large parliamentary constituency and allied with the ruling Congress party, Banerjee's Trinamool is well placed to win the 2011 state assembly elections if she can continue along her current path of self-restraint and avoid making any mistakes along the way.

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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KOLKATA 000276

SENSITIVE SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/INSB (TITUS)

E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ECON, IN

SUBJECT: TRINAMOOL'S MAMATA BANERJEE: FROM OPPOSITIONAL STREET FIGHTER TO WEST BENGAL CHIEF MINISTER-IN-WAITING

REF: KOLKATA 79

1. (SBU) Summary: Since the May 2009 parliamentary elections elevated West Bengal's regional party, All India Trinamool Congress, from obscurity to the second largest constituent party in the United Progressive Alliance, its leader, Mamata Banerjee, has conscientiously sought to re-brand herself as West Bengal's Chief Minister-in-Waiting. She is using the considerable administrative resources at her disposal as Railway's Minister, political resources as leader of the state opposition party, and personal resources to initiate this transformation. Supporters and critics acknowledge the new image, but question whether it is indeed a new product, or simply new packaging. Backed by a large parliamentary constituency and allied with the ruling Congress party, Banerjee's Trinamool is well placed to win the 2011 state assembly elections if she can continue along her current path of self-restraint and avoid making any mistakes along the way.

A Railway's Minister's Purse for West Bengal

2. (SBU) As India's Railways Minister, Banerjee has promised a large share of the nation's "railway rupees" to her home state of West Bengal with a railways budget that is both populist - emphasizing subsidized passenger fairs - and pragmatic - inviting public/private partnerships in new facilities. She has maintained her opposition to forcible land acquisition - a position that propelled her party into parliament - but invited development on the railway-owned land. Critics have expressed concern over the overwhelming focus on passenger vice freight traffic, but understand the electoral motivations of her actions.

Change That West Bengal Can Believe In

3. (SBU) As leader of the largest opposition party in the state, Banerjee is inspiring the faithful, and convincing the agnostic, that the Communist Party of India - Marxist (CPI-M)'s 33 year-uninterrupted rule of West Bengal is set to end. Her July 21 rally in the heart of Kolkata, with crowds estimated up to half a million, was this summer's largest political demonstration and dwarfed the CPI-M's August 31 timid and lackluster response. She is currently the most popular politician in the state and is widely viewed as the only one that can lead the charge for change.

Mamata Courts Industry and Vice Versa

4. (SBU) Banerjee has assiduously courted Kolkata's business community through outreach and appointment of respected business advisors to combat her perceived "anti-industry" label. Her August 22 interactive session with West Bengal's business leaders drew wide applause and drove home the message that business should as a matter of practice reach out to today's opposition for a bipartisan consensus, which, in this case, was well on its way to becoming tomorrow's government. While the business community has not forgiven her for driving Tata Motors small car project out of the state, they are warming up to her, as they too, see which way the winds are blowing.

Trinamool and Congress: Strategic and Tactical Allies

5. (SBU) According to parliamentarian Keshav Rao, Congress' general secretary for West Bengal, his party decided to ally with Trinamool in order to defeat CPI-M in West Bengal and diminish its significance as a national party or convener of a possible third political front. At the same time, Trinamool needs Congress' support to win in West Bengal and avoid a

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triangulation of the anti-CPI-M vote. Trinamool also enjoys the legitimacy and ministerial power that a tie-up with the national partner confers. Both Trinamool and Congress politicians expect the tie-up to last through the 2011 state assembly elections.

Comment

6. (SBU) Skepticism remains whether Banerjee's makeover truly represents a new product - cooler, more level-headed, and willing to accept outside advice - or simply the season's new political makeup. Consensus exists that she is conscientiously trying to transform her image from political maverick and firebrand to a woman ready, able and willing to lead India's fourth most populous state. Her party's public rhetoric, devoid of any anti-Americanism, and private outreach to post's officers are encouraging signs that a Banerjee-led West Bengal government will be friendlier to the United States than the current CPI-M one. Post recommends USG officials continue to cultivate Banerjee, who has not yet visited the United States, in her current capacity as Railways Minister and the likely next Chief Minister of West Bengal.

PAYNE