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Modi-Mamata Bonhomie

Updated: May 29, 2015 11:11 pm

After the programme Mamata Banerjee handed over a letter to Modi. In her seven-page letter to the Prime Minister, Mamata raised the demand for increasing the Centre’s share of funds for ongoing projects and schemes. Mamata Banerjee also sought Modi’s personal intervention in getting a waiver for the state’s Rs 2.74 lakh crore debt

Only a few months back, the political equation was seen as quite an impossible equation,which now seems to have melted into a cordial relation. That is why it is rightly said that everything is unpredictable in Indian politics. Once, the bitter rivals Trinamool Congress supremo and Chief Minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are friends now.

Only last year, ahead of general elections in the country Mamata Banerjee tried all possible ways in  national politics to stop Narendra Modi from becoming the Prime Minister of the country, whom she has always referred to as a communal leader. She used all scathing words to de mean Narendra Modi, when Modi came to Bengal for political campaign and also since Modi referred to the Saradha scandal during the campaign trail and heralded, what turned out to be one of the most harrowing phases in Mamata’s political career.

Even after BJP came to power in the Centre and Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of the country, she accused him of pursuing vendetta politics against her, when most of the leaders, sitting Members of Parliament, Ministers in the state were named by CBI in the Saradha Cheat Fund Scam. Mamata also skipped several meetings in Delhi called by Prime Minister.

But in the middle of the Saradha heat on Trinamool Congress following a CBI probe, the ice was melted on March 9 when the Chief Minister called on Narendra Modi in Delhi. Although no one knows what transpired between the two in the meeting, but according to Mamata Banerjee the meeting in Delhi was to seek a debt waiver for the state.

After the meeting, over the past few months, the Trinamool Congress has supported the government in the Parliament on key bills, including the GST bill and the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh.

The extreme of Mamata’s bonhomie with Modi was, this time when Narendra Modi came to Bengal, Mamata Banerjee accompanied him and also shared dais and advocated “shoulder-to-shoulder” cooperation when she declared “Centre aur state ek saath mein kaandh se kaandh milake development ka work kare, to isme desh ka aachchha hota hai, raajya ka aachchha hota hai, janta ke liye aachchha hota hai (If the Centre and state work shoulder to shoulder for development, it is good for the country, the state and the people)”. This was the first time the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister shared a public stage – both Modi and Mamata appeared to be on the same stage as they pledged to work for the downtrodden at the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Jeevan Jyoti Bima Yojana.

Narendra Modi also didn’t waste time to take the credit diplomatically and could not resist when he pointed out: “Abhi aadarniya mukhyamantri ji ullekh kar rahi thi ki gaon mein bank nahin hain. Unhonein yeh baat mere saamne rakhhi kyunki unko bharosa hai, agar karega to yehi karega (Just now, the respected chief minister was saying that villages don’t have banks. She raised this matter before me because she has the faith that if anyone does it, it will be me).”

After the programme Mamata Banerjee handed over a letter to Modi. In her seven-page letter to the Prime Minister, Mamata also raised the demand for increasing the Centre’s share of funds for ongoing projects and schemes, including the Special Backward Region Grants Fund, the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and the midday meal programme. Mamata Banerjee also sought Modi’s personal intervention in getting a waiver for the state’s Rs 2.74 lakh crore debt.

The cash-strapped Bengal government is heavily dependent on central funds, and in the recent past Mamata had attacked the Modi government for reducing the allocations. Although Trinamool sources said financial concerns were not the only reason behind Mamata’s decision to warm up to Modi.

The developments triggered a flurry of criticism from the opposition parties. “After Mamata Banerjee’s meeting with the Prime Minister in Delhi in March, the CBI probe in Saradha has slowed down significantly. Trinamool Congress too has given its support to a few important bills. The political give-and-take is as clear as daylight,” said Abdul Mannan, a senior Congress leader.

The CPIM has termed the apparent bonhomie between Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi a “success of the RSS/BJP programme of ghar wapsi” and alleged the CBI’s Saradha probe was the reason. “The corridors of Parliament are abuzz with whispers that in drawing the more-than-willing Trinamool Congress into its web of political opportunism, PM Modi has succeeded in implementing the RSS/BJP programme of ghar wapsi’’, said the editorial in the latest issue of CPIM mouthpiece Peoples Democracy. The CPIM general secretary Sitaram Yechury edits the weekly.

In a way, Mamata is in a fix to define her relations with the BJP and Modi government at the Centre. She was one of the few leaders to congratulate Modi when he won the assembly elections after 2002 Gujarat riots. However, the changed reality in her state and increasing support of the Muslims towards TMC (who constitute 25 per cent of the Bengal population) forced her to shun Modi during his high-profile campaign for prime ministership. In the Lok Sabha campaign, she attacked Modi by calling him dangar mukh (face of the riot) and threatened to arrest him for making hate speech in the state on the Bangladeshi outsider issue. After Modi became the Prime Minister, though other regional party leaders like Jayalalithaa or Naveen Patnaik exchanged greetings with him, it is only Mamata who maintained a distance from the BJP leader.

But the question is how long she will position herself as the anti-Modi figure in Indian politics. It is not a secret that the state’s financial situation is in shambles, supposedly due to the 2 lakh crore loans taken by the previous left government. To overcome this financial crunch, Mamata has to be on the negotiating table with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley. West Bengal is also supposed to get Rs 2 lakh 55 thousand crore from the fourteenth Finance Commission from 2015 to 2020. If she fails to get hold of this fund from the centre, her developmental activities in the state will be halted and Bengal would find no mention in national arenas.

Even the Modi government expects to maintain a cordial relation with Mamata Banerjee for the simple reason that her cooperation is required on many fronts. The recent praise for Bengal CM by the PM in his maiden speech in Parliament and the offer by the government to give the Chairmanship of very important Public Accounts Committee to Trinamool could be seen in that context.

For the next two years, BJP will still be in minority in Rajya Sabha and it needs the support of 12 TMC MPs to get through many important bills on the floor. Secondly with 34 MPs in Lok Sabha and with a strong anti-land acquisition face, Mamata could be sought as the public face of many protests against the hard economic reforms Narendra Modi government may pursue soon as expected.

Such unexpected bonhomie between the two parties may not give rise to communalism versus secularism politics in West Bengal but it can redefine the politics in the state in many ways. With their political rise, problems for the BJP in the state will rises manifold and to tackle them they need to find local solutions because the nature of politics is very different in Bengal in compare to the rest of the country.

For the time being Narendra Modi’s government needs the support of Trinamool Congress for passing key bills in Rajya Sabha, where the number of BJP representatives is low. Mamata also needs the support of centre in waiving off afflicting state West Bengal and as accused by leaders in the opposition for reliefing pressure of Saradha scam. Whatever may be the reason, we may say that the bonhomie between these two leaders is meant to benefit each other’s interests for now.

By Joydeep Dasgupta from Kolkata

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