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Mamata set to spend winter out in cold

New Delhi, Nov. 18: The Centre is unlikely to reward Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee with a Cabinet berth immediately for deciding not to quit the National Democratic Alliance.

Highly-placed government sources said Mamata may have to wait for some more time as neither the Prime Minister’s Office nor the BJP are in a hurry to induct her into the Cabinet. The Trinamul chief, who had indicated her intention to rejoin Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and avoided a split in her party, may have to wait till the winter session of Parliament is over. “The chances of her induction during this session are highly unlikely,” said a senior Cabinet minister.

Sources said the Vajpayee government is currently preoccupied with the Gujarat elections and the issues before the winter session, and the Prime Minister may be able to induct her only in January.

Mamata, on her part, was circumspect. Asked if she would meet Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani or NDA convenor George Fernandes, she merely said: “I have come to Delhi after four months. Let me settle down.”

The Trinamul chief appeared relaxed and happy though a split in the party was staring her in her face.

She declined to reveal the assurances she got from Fernandes when he phoned her in Calcutta on Saturday. She had also spoken on phone to Sudheendra Kulkarni, officer on special duty in the PMO.

Government sources said Fernandes’ call gave Mamata a “face-saver” that she could place before the Trinamul working committee meeting to smoothen the path for a decision to return to the NDA.

Mamata wanted an assurance from the Centre, which was given by the NDA convenor, they said. “The first step was to return to the NDA. The next will be her reinduction into the Cabinet, which can be discussed subsequently,” added the sources.

Mamata’s return to the Cabinet with the core issue of Eastern Railway’s bifurcation being solved appeared dim and the Prime Minister may be able to discuss it only after the Gujarat elections, sources said, indicating that the government was in no mood to agree to her demands, including those relating to the railway zone division.

The Trinamul, however, did not participate in the debate on the adjournment motion in the Lok Sabha by Subodh Roy of the CPM on the situation in Gujarat.

Trinamul sources said the Speaker’s sudden decision to allow the debate today left the party with little time to formulate its stand on the issue.

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