The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mamata tilts to coal after Atal’s offer

Calcutta, Oct. 23: Mamata Banerjee’s suspended animation, symbolised by her minister-without-portfolio status in the Union Cabinet, appears to be nearing an end following the latest initiative of the Prime Minister.

Sources said Atal Bihari Vajpayee gave Mamata two options on Monday — coal and heavy industries.

“She is expected to convey her decision in a day or two. The Prime Minister’s Office will make the formal announcement after that,” a source close to Mamata in Delhi said.

Sources in the PMO indicated that the coal and heavy industries ministers have been sounded out about a possible change of portfolio. “The Prime Minister has worked out everything keeping in view the interests of Bengal as well as those of her (Mamata’s) party,” a source said.

In presenting their arguments for coal, her advisers pointed out that she will have an all-India role to play as she had as railway minister. Mamata is likely to consult Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu before accepting a ministry like coal. Given the developments in national politics and her not-so-strong position in the Cabinet, Mamata appears to be considering taking out an insurance policy in the shape of Naidu’s blessings before returning to Delhi as a minister with a portfolio.

Having been told in as many words that she cannot be made the railway minister as it will alter the balance within the National Democratic Alliance, Mamata, it is believed, is taking a closer look at the options presented by Vajpayee.

It is learnt that Mamata’s initial response to the offer was negative. The options were not exactly new in that she had been sounded out several times over the past few months by senior BJP leaders keen on bringing her back to the government without offending L.K. Advani. The deputy Prime Minister was reportedly averse to Mamata’s return.

Mamata has harboured reservations about the two ministries because they will demand her participation in privatisation programmes and job cuts, which will make her vulnerable to Left Front jibes in the state. Her vote bank in Bengal will suffer if Mamata, as a minister, has a hand in the closure of mines and the retrenchment of miners.

Signals from her Harish Chatterjee Street home in the city suggest that the old reservations still persist but there is also a recognition of the fact that she needs a ministry to hold her flock together.

As things now stand, Mamata is preparing for a stint most probably in coal, though many of her backers are trying to dissuade her as the ministry involves implementation of anti-labour policies.

Some of Mamata’s advisers tried yesterday to get the PMO to agree to rejoin mines, now a separate entity, with coal and present it to her as an omnibus ministry. Mamata is believed to have shown interest in such a configuration as mines means investments and has a lot to do with railway, her favourite department.

Mamata, however, has also indicated that she can consider heavy industries if the Prime Minister hives the department of industrial policy and promotion off the commerce ministry and clubs it with heavy industries.

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