Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s participation in the Opposition meeting Friday, convened by Congress president Sonia Gandhi, has brought the relationship between the two women leaders into focus once again.
Banerjee’s participation was especially significant as neither she nor Abhishek Banerjee, her nephew and Trinamool Congress general secretary, attended the three meetings convened by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in the past few weeks. A party representative was sent to only one of the meetings.
Additionally, the Friday meeting came just days after Sushmita Dev, a former MP and president of the Mahila Congress, resigned from the Congress and joined Trinamool.
This is the second instance in the past few months where Banerjee and Sonia’s seemingly cordial equation has come to fore. After decimating the Congress in the state assembly elections earlier this year, where the party managed to win no seats, the West Bengal CM met Sonia at her residence in Delhi in July.
Senior Trinamool Congress leaders attributed the relationship between the two female leaders to personal chemistry and the brotherly affection that late Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi had for Banerjee.
“Rajiv Gandhi treated her (Mamata Banerjee) as his younger sister. He made her the general secretary of youth Congress, sent her abroad many times, made her minister and supported her through all her difficult phases,” said Sougata Roy, a senior Trinamool MP, who has seen the party supremo through various phases of her political career.
He added: “A few people know that Rajiv Gandhi arranged for her treatment and looked after her like an elder brother, when she was brutally attacked and beaten up by the CPM men in 1990. She was admitted at the Woodlands hospital for days. The Gandhis took care of her. This was her relationship with him. Sonia Gandhi also saw her as a friend and a sister.”
“There has not been a single incident when any of them was seen criticising each other publicly, not even in election rallies.”
And the relationship seems to have remained largely unchanged even after Banerjee broke away from the Congress in the 1990s, walked out of UPA-II in 2012, the poaching from West Bengal Congress and fighting at least two assembly elections against Sonia’s party.
“After Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination, Mamata was in Congress till 1996. A section in the party led by Sitaram Kesri dealt wrongly with her and almost forced her to leave. Sonia Gandhi was not in politics then. Had she been at the helm of affairs in Congress, Mamata would have never left Congress,” said Roy.
Meanwhile, another party leader noted that Banerjee also prefers directly dealing with Sonia on Congress matters.
“Didi has some reservations about Rahul Gandhi’s ways and handling of matters related to the Opposition’s unity. Didi has made it very clear that if she needs to intervene in any matter related to Congress, she will only deal directly with Sonia ji. Their personal bonding is beyond politics,” a top Trinamool leader, who wished to remain unnamed, told ThePrint.
A personal bond
Senior Congress leaders also attributed the equation between Banerjee and Sonia to Rajiv Gandhi’s affections.
“Two of them are probably bound by Rajiv Gandhi’s affection for Mamata Banerjee. Sonia ji embraced her like a younger sister,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, a senior Congress leader and a Rajya Sabha MP.
“There have been political rivalries between Congress and Trinamool during the assembly elections, but Sonia ji never disrespected the friendship for politics’s sake . In fact, their equation has helped both Congress and Trinamool Congress overcome certain political differences in the past,” he told ThePrint.
Bhattacharya also talked about how it was due to Sonia’s help that Banerjee has been receiving central support.
“Sonia ji helped Mamata get all sorts of central support including making adequate central forces available to make the election peaceful. Without Sonia ji’s support, it would have been difficult for Trinamool Congress to dislodge the Left Front government,” added Bhattacharya.
According to party sources, senior Congress leaders and advocates Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi have also fought complicated cases for the West Bengal CM at the Congress president’s behest.
“If there is anything that Mamata ji does not like including comments made by Rahul Gandhi or WB PCC chief Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, she would always go to Sonia ji to express her displeasure, and Sonia ji addresses her concern,” said another Congress leaders, who wished to remain unnamed.
“It is almost a known fact that Mamata ji does not like some policies of Rahul Ji and she generally avoids being there in his meetings,” he told ThePrint.