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Atal leaves, Mamata waits
- Home or abroad, PM has no time for Trinamul leader

New Delhi, Sept. 16: A berthless Mamata Banerjee may have a long wait ahead as the Prime Minister has left on a 12-day foreign tour without announcing her portfolio.

The wait could be longer than expected as both Mamata and the BJP brass stick to their stand on a likely ministry and Atal Bihari Vajpayee cold-shoulders her.

Though Trinamul Congress sources said he has already cleared a ministry, which would be announced any time now, they could not have forgotten his snub to their chief.

Mamata, sworn in as a cabinet minister on September 8, was refused an appointment for a one-to-one meeting with Vajpayee though she had been camping here for the last five days for just that. The Prime Minister’s list of engagements was not full, barring his Chennai visit on Saturday.

Sources said Vajpayee is peeved with her for not clarifying that she would not accept the coal ministry before he sounded Rashtrapati Bhavan on the swearing-in. He had wanted to avoid the spectacle of a minister unable to take charge of a portfolio.

Today, Mamata called on human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi and K.C. Pant, the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission. Sources close to her said these were courtesy calls.

Yesterday, she shared a platform with RSS leaders for the first time and praised them for being “truly patriotic”. At a book-release function, she solicited Sangh support in her fight against Marxists, a move calculated to appease the Sangh parivar.

Three days before that, she called on deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani “to apprise him of CPM terror in West Bengal” and demand an inquiry into the recent murder of a Trinamul leader. She claimed not to have discussed “portfolio” as she was happy being a minister without one.

Advani, who had wanted her estranged party colleague Sudip Bandopadhyay anointed a minister, was not enthusiastic, a source close to him said. The source pointed out that Advani agreed to meet Mamata in his North Block office, not at home.

Mamata, the sources said, is now insisting on getting back the railways as the BJP, in the run-up to Assembly polls, is unwilling to part with any important portfolio held by its members.

BJP sources said she had also rejected heavy industries, held by the Shiv Sena’s Subodh Mohite. Indications are the BJP is not averse to giving her one of the ministries held by its allies, such as the Janata Dal (United), the DMK and the Akali Dal. But an unimpressed Mamata is stuck on railways or nothing.

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