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Mamata sit-out surprise for George

New Delhi, Jan. 29: Trinamul Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has missed the bus again, but this time it has left George Fernandes baffled.

The National Democratic Alliance convener was certain — and so was Mamata — that she would find a berth in Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s council of ministers.

Though Mamata did not intensely lobby for re-induction, both Vajpayee and Fernandes were keen on bringing her back. Sources said on January 6, Fernandes, at the Prime Minister’s behest, had urged the Trinamul leader to take over coal and mines.

Sources said Mamata at first stuck to her old demand for the railway portfolio but Fernandes ruled that out. She was told she could take civil aviation or coal and mines. While the Trinamul leader rejected civil aviation on the ground that it could be of no use to her constituency, she did not say no to the latter.

Mamata, Trinamul sources said, waited for a call from Delhi till last night. It now appears she has to wait for yet another expansion or shuffle though there is just about a year-and-a-half left for the Vajpayee government’s term to end.

The Prime Minister, however, indicated that another shake-up could be effected if the allies want it. “Baad mein vichar kiya jayega,” he told reporters after the swearing-in ceremony of the new ministers. “I have not touched the NDA allies today. If they demand, there will be a reshuffle.” Asked about Mamata, he said: “Banerjee was also part of the allies.”

NDA sources also maintained that the shuffle was strictly a BJP affair and the Prime Minister might go in for a minor expansion or shake-up during or after the budget session of Parliament. Mamata and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah could then be inducted, they added.

But Mamata’s non-induction, at a time when Bengal is gearing up for panchayat elections in May and the BJP is planning to ally with Trinamul, has surprised many. But a Trinamul source said he had indications from the BJP leadership that the party was not going to yield to any pressure tactic from Mamata. Also, a section of the BJP feels that Mamata does not have many options and will not be able to carry the entire party with her if she chooses to quit the NDA for good.

Sources say apart from Mamata’s criticism of the BJP’s Hindutva ideology, her campaign against Eastern Railway’s bifurcation and railway minister Nitish Kumar did not endear herself to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani.

Fernandes’ supporters suspect that Advani, who is “fond of” Kumar and rebel Trinamul MP Sudip Bandopadhyay, wanted to please them by blocking the Trinamul chief’s entry.

Earlier, the trio of Vajpayee-Fernandes-Advani took all the major decisions and sometimes Fernandes and Advani joined hands in checking the Prime Minister, an NDA leader said. “But this is the first time the Vajpayee-Fernandes duo failed to make the deputy Prime Minister fall in line.”

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