Mamata looks to national politics

Mamata looks to national politics
It is often said that there are no permanent enemies or for that matter permanent friends in politics. Empirically speaking political leaders have often proved this maxim, at least if Indian political history is anything to go by. Look at what happened last week when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee showed off their newfound bonhomie in a foreign soil- Bangladesh. It was common knowledge that their chemistry was not top-notch until recently. 

What is the reason for this new found camaraderie? Mamata was the last to call on Modi, this was almost ten months after he took over as Prime Minister of India. During the past one year, however, the BJP and the TMC continued their public spat against each other. Mamata had called Modi Hitler and a ‘murderer’ while Modi had made repeated references to the Saradha scam and illegal immigrants in the state. However, political compulsions made them choose their plan B and choose cooperation rather than confrontation. Interestingly Modi, on his part went out of his way in humoring Mamata; while the latter also played along by going to Dhaka when the Land Boundary Agreement was signed on June 6. Bangladesh leaders were keeping their fingers crossed as in 2011 Mamata had pulled out of the Manmohan Singh-led delegation at the last minute.

It is clear that much spade work had been done by both sides to break the ice before Mamata called on Modi in March in Delhi and when Modi went to West Bengal in May, his first visit to the state as Prime Minister. External Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and a few other confidants had prepared the ground for meeting from the beginning of this year. This culminated in an unusual gesture on the part of Mamata to accompany Modi to Dhaka last week. 

Both Modi and Mamata realize now that it is to their advantage to cooperate rather than confront each other. This fits in with Modi’s pet concept of cooperative federalism. It was indeed a moment of triumph for him to have Mamata by his side when he signed the LBA in Dhaka. “I am confident that with the support of state governments in India, we can reach a fair solution on the Teesta and Feni rivers. We should also work together to renew and clean our rivers,” Modi had said. He has been reaching out to other regional satraps like Jayalalithaa and Naveen Patnaik too. 

Modi wants to keep the door open for these regional satraps to prevent them from allying with the UPA. It will also strengthen the NDA if at some point of time parties like Trinamool Congress and the AIADMK return to the NDA fold. Further, the Modi magic seemed to be waning. The Aam Aadmi Party’s spectacular victory in Delhi elections at the beginning of the year stunned the BJP leadership including the PM. The BJP was grounded in West Bengal after the municipal elections where Mamata triumphed.  More importantly Modi needs the support of the now -UPA parties to sail through in Rajya Sabha for the next three years until the BJP gains the majority to push through key legislations. Above all, the BJP would like to keep the option open for an alliance with the TMC. Some even suggest that Modi has decided that Mamata is a better bet for him in Bengal than his own party. 

As for Mamata, she had big dreams for a bigger national role and took on Modi to show her minority voters that she could lead the secular brigade. Before the Lok Sabha polls, she thought that the BJP might emerge with less than a majority and she might play a part.  However, she was delighted that the TMC emerged stronger winning a huge number of seats. The recent Municipal body victory has given her further confidence that she can take on any political party in her backyard. She has grasped the ground reality that if she has to win the Assembly polls scheduled for next year; she has to get more funds from the Centre to show any reasonable ‘paribortan’ (change). Bengal, which has been reeling under stark unemployment and lack of industrial development for decades now, definitely needs financial assistance from the Centre. Modi government did give her a package of over Rs 3000 crores for the enclave settlement. 

Her efforts like cooperating on the LBA, asking for a CBI probe in the Ranaghat nun rape case, support to legislative measures in the Rajya Sabha were examples of her planned move. The Saradha scam and the arrest of her close TMC leaders had created panic in the TMC and she had to contain the damage. The allegation is that Banerjee has traded off the TMC support in Parliament for a pause on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) activism on the Saradha chit fund scam. 
As for the Bangladesh visit, facilitating friendly relations with Bangladesh can only add to her creditworthiness in her State. Moreover, she did not want to be seen as an obstructionist chief minister as both the Bengals on opposite sides of the border stand to gain from peaceful relations and amity. 

The newfound bonhomie has certainly irked the opposition parties like the Congress and the CPI-M who question Mamata’s motives. Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi raised it publicly this week after the Dhaka visit and so did the CPI-M. However, knowing Mamata’s track record, this cannot be the end to this endless ongoing saga. Mamata, as a shrewd politician will keep all her options open and so will Modi. IPA
Kalyani Shankar

Kalyani Shankar

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