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Mamata finally meets PM on his ground, on her terms

Last updated on: March 09, 2015 22:36 IST

In January Amit Shah launched the 'Bhag Mamata Bhag' programme in West Bengal. On Monday, March 9, Prime Minister Narendra Modi rolled out the red carpet for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

What changed in two months? Sheela Bhatt/ finds out.

The day clearly belonged to Mamata Banerjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's VVIP guest.

Mamata's meeting with Modi in his Parliament office on Monday, March 9, after a long gap of nine months in which she had steadfastly refused to meet him, has stirred West Bengal politics.

The meeting's importance can be gauged from the reaction of West Bengal's Left parties who taunted the chief minister that she is planning a 'Ghar-Wapsi.'

And what a return to form it was. From Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Energy Minister Piyush Goyal to Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, they were all on hand to greet the Tigress of Bengal as she called on the prime minister.

Surely, Monday's development indicates that the Trinamool Congress chief has overcome the political troubles that hurt her and her party due to the Saradha scam.

The case is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation, and several Trinamool leaders and their associates have been sent to jail.

She may have held the upper hand, but it was Modi's style of courting Mamata that surprised everyone. As late as January Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah had launched the 'Bhag Mamata Bhag' programme in West Bengal to steal the thunder from her government by alleging that she and her party men were corrupt, even communal.

On Monday, none other than the prime minister gave Banerjee a certificate of good governance.

Mamata herself said later that Modi had, in his meeting with her and her team that included Trinamool members of Parliament and state Finance Minister Amit Mitra, apart from officials from the PMO, lauded Bengal for its fiscal discipline despite facing maximum debt.

Apart from the meeting with aides, Mamata also met Modi for a one-on-one encounter that lasted around 15 minutes, the PM later tweeting the photograph of them together, and saying a trifle patronisingly, 'Met WB CM Mamata Banerjee. Assured her that Centre will leave no stone unturned for WB's progress.'

It is clear that Modi wanted to leave no stone unturned to please Mamata on Monday. Even the photograph tweeted by the PMO says it all. It shows the prime minister sitting, humbly, with hands folded in front of Mamata who as always looked stern.

It was thus a victorious visit by Mamata to New Delhi. In spite of Amit Shah's grandiose plans to spread the BJP in West Bengal, Modi is offering sops to West Bengal.

Her party MPs found the bonhomie between the PM and Mamata surprising. When she complained about West Bengal's debts she had inherited from the Left government, Modi said like her he too inherited a huge debt from the previous government.

Mamata told him the Centre should not charge the state any interest as it only added to the debt. The PM was very positive in his response, said Trinamool MPs who were present.

In fact, Modi told Mamata that after the central government's acceptance of the Finance Commission recommendations hiking the states's share of revenues and after the auction of coal mines West Bengal will have so much money that it will not know how to spend it!

So, between January, when Amit Shah was spitting fire, and now, why have Modi and his government gone soft on Mamata? What gives?

Post the defeat in the Delhi election, it seems a lot is happening in the government.

In particular, the stalemate in the Rajya Sabha has made Modi hyperactive about attracting regional parties to his side. On February 14, he traveled to Baramati in Maharashtra to attend an event on National Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar's invitation and ate puran poli and shrikhand at Pawar's home. He even insisted that Pawar join him in his official car to the venue.

Then, on February 21, Modi traveled to Saifai in Uttar Pradesh, where Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav hails from, to attend a ceremony in the Yadav family. After thus wooing the NCP in Maharashtra and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, Modi is now targeting Mamata.

It seems obvious that his government's woeful lack of a majority in the Rajya Sabha is on the Modi government's mind.

Also, the BJP is trying to ensure that any move by the Congress to breathe life into the anti-BJP and anti-Modi front comes a cropper. Modi is thus going all out to divide and rule in the Upper House.

Eventually, whether he will succeed or not depends on many other factors, but Monday's meeting with Mamata is not an isolated case of a state CM meeting the PM.

But surely, Mamata has taken the sting out of the BJP's plans for the state by ensuring that Modi lauds her government and declares his unambiguous support for West Bengal's development.

After her refusal to meet Modi over the last nine months, it seems the ice was broken some time ago.

The chief minister visited Bangladesh in February and spoke about the Teesta water dispute. If and when the Teesta issue between India and Bangladesh is settled, she will hog the limelight and a large part of the credit as well. The Centre wants to settle the issue and Mamata is putting in efforts to somehow soften her stand.

For Trinamool MPs it was amusing to see Modi mention Derek O'Brien, Mamata's favourite Rajya Sabha member and a staunch critic of the prime minister, at their meeting. When he spoke about the state's share of revenues in the Rajya Sabha, Modi said, 'even Derekji was present in the House.'

From the specific mention of O'Brien, those present at the meeting got the essence of an unfolding event.

O'Brien had once called Modi the 'butcher of Gujarat.'

For TMC MPs it was a different Modi and an assertive Mamata in action, after a long, long, time. The prime minister went on to cajole Mamata, saying she should just send messages to him through her MPs. He would 'take the TMC MPs as seriously' as he took her.

And on a day when Mamata was making the best of India's federalism, Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee opposed the land bill in the Lok Sabha, saying the Modi government was 'for corporates, by corporates and of corporates.' This shows how well Mamata can devise her moves when she is in a crisis.

Some observers of Bengal politics believe that Mamata has played a masterstroke at a time when she faces tough issues within the party and outside. She knows that Modi and Shah are new players in the game. By getting Modi's full attention, she has strengthened her position within her party, and has sidelined the rebel Mukul Roy completely.

Plus, she has got time in her favour to delay Amit Shah's ambitious plans for her state.

Now, what more can she ask for!

Images: Top: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee at a one-on-one meeting on Monday, March 9, 2015. Bottom: Modi and Banerjee meet with their delegations. Photographs: Press Information Bureau

Sheela Bhatt/ in New Delhi