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HomePolitics'Consolidating anti-BJP secular space' — what poll-bound Bengal sees in Mamata-Sonia bonding

‘Consolidating anti-BJP secular space’ — what poll-bound Bengal sees in Mamata-Sonia bonding

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s decision to attend the meeting of 7 CMs chaired by Sonia Gandhi is being seen as an attempt by her to once again unite all non-BJP parties.

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Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee looks set to revive her relationship with Congress interim president Sonia Gandhi after a not-so-cordial year between the two.  

Mamata was among the seven chief ministers who attended the meeting chaired by Sonia Wednesday, where they resolved to unitedly fight the BJP. The meeting convened by Sonia saw an unusual bonhomie between the two leaders, with both insisting the other moderate it. After two requests from Sonia, Mamata said the Congress chief should do it since she is the “the senior leader”.

The two leaders finally agreed that the first name be announced by Mamata, and then Sonia would take over.

This was in sharp contrast to the situation just a year ago when Mamata had vowed to “remember” the insult after then Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked her ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The West Bengal chief minister stayed away from the Congress, even skipping the meeting convened by Sonia in January to register protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. 

West Bengal Congress and CPI(M) leaders now claim Mamata’s decision to attend the meeting chaired by Sonia is her attempt to consolidate the anti-BJP “secular” space in the state before 2021 assembly elections. 

Trinamool leaders, however, said it is a “common agenda” raised by Didi for all Opposition states. 

Mamata-Sonia ties  

Political experts said Mamata’s overtures to the Congress are an effort to save her home turf from a BJP onslaught, while also pointing out that the chief minister always had special ties with Sonia.   

“Mamata’s relationship with Sonia and with West Bengal Congress is very distinctive and none should confuse these two,” said Prof Samir Das, director of the Calcutta Research Group. “She has always maintained friendly relations with Sonia. In fact, many times, we saw her rush to Delhi to meet Sonia and express her concerns.”  

Mamata’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) was once part of the Congress-led UPA II but she quit it in 2012, protesting against a fuel price hike, the decision on foreign direct investment (FDI) and the government’s move to withdraw the cap on LPG. Six Congress ministers then quit the West Bengal cabinet in retaliation. 

Despite this, Mamata maintained good terms with Sonia. 

The ties, however, soured in February last year, when a host of senior Congress leaders, including then president Rahul Gandhi and prominent West Bengal leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary, attacked Mamata in Parliament over the chit fund scam. 

An angry Banerjee reportedly told Sonia Gandhi she would never forget the insult. 

Also read: Bengal Covid cases double in just 3 weeks, Mamata govt says it’s natural progression of virus

A change in strategy

Speaking to The Print, Chowdhary, now the Congress’ leader in the Lok Sabha, said Mamata has changed tack as the BJP is posing a serious challenge to her in West Bengal. 

“Mamata Banerjee is facing a serious threat in Bengal. And it is the BJP,” Chowdhary said.  

“It (BJP) has challenged Mamata’s authority and monopoly in Bengal politics. So, when a big fish turns up, all small fishes come together to take the shape of a big one to scare the monster fish away.”

He added, “Mamata Banerjee also thought that she would run the show on her own, but now she sees erosion. The political situation in Bengal forces her to change her strategy.”

Chowdhary said she is “eyeing the secular space” that the Congress and Left parties have in Bengal. “I would not be surprised if she requests our support before the assembly elections.” 

Incidentally, Banerjee often accuses the West Bengal Congress and the CPI(M) of colluding with the BJP and work against her. 

Samir Das pointed out that the political scenario in Bengal is different now and despite Congress being a depleted force in the state, Banerjee needs to side with a ‘secular’ party publicly. 

“The Bengal unit of the Congress and Mamata’s Trinamool can never patch up following the breach of alliance in the state in 2012. No PCC leader or the worker will forget the random poaching, slapping of cases and attacks by Mamata’s party,” Das said.

“Moreover, the alliance between the Left parties and Congress made things ever more critical. Having said that, we must consider the overwhelming presence of the RSS-BJP here and the threat it poses for Mamata politically. Consolidation of Opposition forces is inevitable and necessary. Banerjee has realised that and changed strategy.” 

Left leaders, however, see Mamata’s move as a ‘balancing’ act. “She is trying to balance and re-position herself. Left parties are now very active in Bengal since the CAA and NRC protests. She fears that too,” said CPI(M) Politburo member Mohammad Salim. 

Also read: She’s incapable of doing anything unethical, says Ankhi Das’ father-in-law, a Trinamool MLA

Common agenda, says Trinamool 

The Trinamool Congress, however, argues that the chief minister is only raising genuine and valid issues.

Wednesday’s meeting saw the chief ministers resolve to approach the Supreme Court over the deferment of NEET and JEE examinations and take on the Centre over GST dues to the states. They also vowed to fight the BJP over what they termed the violation of federalism, particularly because the states had not been consulted on the National Education Policy (NEP) or the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification.   

“It is about raising the common agendas. Even the BJP-ruled states also feel the heat now as the Centre has held back the states’ GST dues. Mamata Banerjee is the only fiery leader who can speak fearlessly,” said a senior TMC MP. “There are relevant issues related to the students. She raised that too. In fact, the most important point is her move to appeal to all states for submitting a joint appeal before the Supreme Court for students. This will also get us support from first-time voters.” 

According to Sougata Roy, another veteran MP, it was a ‘sharp’ move by Mamata. “Even though it was not a West Bengal-centric meeting, people have seen that Mamata Banerjee is the only leader who raises public issues,” Roy said. “The state-Centre conflict is nothing new, she is the one who repeatedly questioned Centre’s autocratic rules. It will also help us to get anti-BJP space in the state,” he added.

“Banerjee skipped several meetings chaired by Sonia and these meetings include the crucial one on CAA and NRC. So, the same politician approaching the Congress high command to convene a meeting will have some political ramifications,” said Prof Biswanath Chakarbarti, a senior political analyst.

“Banerjee raised the common issues like pending GST money, JEE and NIIT exams, Covid funds, fear of agencies and federal structure. She clearly tries to revive her image as Opposition leader nationally and her relations with Sonia Gandhi.” 

Also read: 3 months after being flown home, Jharkhand’s struggling migrants now want to return to cities


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