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Modi-Mamata ties: One meeting, many questions

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being greeted by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during a meeting, in New Delhi on September 18.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi being greeted by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee during a meeting, in New Delhi on September 18.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Mamata Banerjee, who is expected to share the dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kolkata on Sunday during the latter’s two-day visit to the city, had hitherto been relentlessly targeting the BJP-led central government for the CAA and proposed NRC

The ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) has blanketed the city with billboards that underscore the ferocity with which party chief Mamata Banerjee opposes the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC). Indeed, Ms. Banerjee has been campaigning relentlessly across the State against both the CAA and the NRC.

However, when it came to a proposed meeting of all Opposition leaders in Delhi to plan a joint strategy amid the ongoing countrywide protests against the law, the mercurial West Bengal Chief Minister had a surprise in store. The TMC leader announced on Thursday that she would not be attending the Jan. 13 meeting, triggering speculation about her motives.

Ms. Banerjee, who is expected to share the dais with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Kolkata on Sunday during the latter’s two-day visit to the city, had hitherto been relentlessly targeting the BJP-led central government for the CAA and proposed NRC. But on Thursday she asserted that the “hooliganism of the Congress and the CPI(M) during the bandh [on January 8] has stopped” her from attending the meeting of the anti-BJP parties, which will be led by Congress and attended by the left parties as well.

A senior TMC leader compared Ms. Banerjee’s decision to skip the Delhi meeting to Mahatma Gandhi’s decision to halt the non-cooperation movement in 1922, following the Chauri Chaura incident which had resulted in the death of 25 people, a majority of them policemen.

“I do not support this,” the TMC leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said. “We need to work together,” the member of the State’s ruling party added.

But then why did Ms. Banerjee decide to skip the crucial Delhi meeting of Opposition parties? The understanding in political circles is that the TMC leader is not too keen to mount more pressure on the BJP at a time when the saffron party is facing a concerted countrywide challenge over the new law. The strategy could be beneficial for her on multiple counts.

One argument is that this would ensure that the BJP remains indebted to Ms. Banerjee, without being a formal ally, for the TMC leader’s decision to pull her punches at a time when Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah were under pressure. The second contention is that the move may hurt the BJP’s image in the State. During the later years of Jyoti Basu’s reign as Chief Minister, it was widely whispered that the Congress was the “B team” of the CPI(M) as the two parties were in a non-hostile relationship in Delhi. The spread of the “B team” propaganda, resulted in the annihilation of the Congress in the State. The argument now is that if an idea — that the BJP and the TMC are in an informal alliance (as the CPI(M) has been alleging) gains traction in the State — it would damage the BJP more, similar to the fate that befell the Congress.

Thirdly, such an informal alliance — if it gets more pronounced in the coming months — may strengthen the CPI(M)-Congress alliance and ensure a robust three-cornered contest in 2021, an outcome that would play to Ms. Banerjee’s advantage.

Moreover, the investigations by central agencies have slackened following Ms. Banerjee’s meeting with the Prime Minister and the Home Minister last September. Also, the TMC’s eight MPs did not vote during the passage of the CAA in the Lok Sabha; Ms. Banerjee had absolved them at the time by asserting that the Bill had been passed in secrecy.

Given this backdrop, if the TMC supremo goes ahead and shares the dais with the Prime Minister at the Kolkata Port Trust (KoPT) event on Sunday, after skipping the Opposition meet in Delhi, it would fuel further speculation about the Modi-Mamata relationship. While the TMC camp is tight-lipped about her plans for now, a meeting with the Prime Minister would force the State BJP and the TMC’s local leaders to scramble for a new political narrative to explain the relationship.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 4:04:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/modi-mamata-ties-one-meeting-many-questions/article30537883.ece

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