Millennium Post

Mamata does matter

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee completed one year in office in May this year therefore an article on her at this time may look slightly out of context. However, from a reporter’s point of view, she has just completed an eventful visit to the national Capital without making much noise about it. Banerjee’s visits to New Delhi are eagerly awaited by journalists, especially by the byte brigade, which thrives on her forceful, at times incongruous, presentation of viewpoints.

Her garrulous style has made Banerjee one of the biggest TRP grosser for the channels, something which a Lalu Yadav could fetch in his hey days with his tomfoolery. But Banerjee is no Lalu Yadav. Fair inkling of the same came during the her visit to the Capital last week at the height of political turmoil when she left the reporters twiddling their thumbs by either leaving the briefing to finance minister P Chidambaram or herself giving very restrained statements.

With the centre embroiled in a controversy over the adverse CAG report on the allocation of coal blocks, projects of Reliance Power and the Delhi International Airport Limited, the media and the opposition leaders in the national Capital waited with bated breath for the arrival of the West Bengal chief minister to let sparks fly. Sparks did fly during her past visits in the recent months, specially in the run-up to the presidential polls where she almost succeeded in cornering the Congress over the choice of candidate but had to eat an humble pie after being let down by her other non-Congress allies.

With Pranab Mukherjee elevated as President, the Congress leadership too realizes that they haven’t much of a presence left in West Bengal. An Adhir Chowdhary or the scions of the old Congress families of A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhary [his niece Mausam Noor] and Priyaranjan Dasmunshi [his wife Deepa Dasmunshi] cannot be a match for Banerjee. Therefore, Pranab’s exit from active politics was bound to change the arithmetic of West Bengal politics and if her last visit to New Delhi is any indication, the change has been to the satisfaction of the West Bengal chief minister.

Banerjee, who had so far avoided attending the UPA conclaves, agreed to come after the Congress sent no less a person than defence minister A K Antony, the number two in the cabinet, as its emissary to invite her. This was seen as gesture by the Congress to mend fences with the Trinamool Congress, which the UPA realised had a key role in their survival at the centre.

During her visit to the national Capital, Banerjee held three important meeting with the leaders from the Congress party. The first was the meeting of the United Progressive Alliance’s [UPA] coordination committee, chaired by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, the second was her discussions with the new finance minister P Chidambaram and finally the wrap-up meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Her arrival in the national Capital was preceded by an unsuccessful attempt by two senior BJP leaders Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy to break bread with her and get her to perk the protest against the alleged scams as claimed by the reports of the CAG. Hussain and Rudy intervened when some of the other important party leaders failed in their repeated attempts to break ice with her. However, even before she landed in New Delhi, it was made amply clear that she was going to have no truck with the BJP.

Whilst in New Delhi, having pledged her support to the government, she went about pushing her brief on as varied issues as the introduction of FDI in retail to acquisition of land by the government. She stood by her opposition on the stand taken by the centre so far on both these issues. To the credit of the Congress leadership, they at last decided to engage her in dialogue and not hear her view point from the media.

During the meetings, which first took place at North Block and then at the prime minister’s 7, Race Course residence, Banerjee bargained hard on the import of fertilizers and how the farmers were affected in the state by the high prices of fertilizer. She also was able to make her point effectively on the state of the national highways 6, 34, 2 and 11 passing through West Bengal. It’s also believed that due to the pressure brought by Banerjee, the centre has decided to defer introducing the new land acquisition bill in Parliament. As her meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and finance minister Chidambaram, Banerjee also managed to get an in principle approval to shift a particular project to the railway ministry, which is under her party MP, from the urban development ministry. She got a go ahead for having the question paper for entrance examination to AIIMS set in Bangla as well.

Her shopping bag from New Delhi could not have looked more impressive as she boarded the flight for Kolkata on Friday evening. Her measured statements before the media must have also warmed the cockles of the Congress leadership’s heart. During the visit, it was made abundantly clear to Banerjee that as long as she stood by the Congress, she would take calls on matters of West Bengal. Having been not engaged so far despite the huge mandate, the West Bengal chief minister could not have asked for more.

Sidharth Mishra is with Centre for Reforms, Development & Justice, and consulting editor, Millennium Post
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