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Mamata plays birthday card
Mamata Banerjee with Jyoti Basu at his home on Sunday evening. Picture by Pabitra Das

Calcutta, July 8: Two unannounced guests rarely seen at a communist home dropped in on Jyoti Basu on his birthday: a golden replica of himself and Mamata Banerjee.

But the sparkle of the idol paled before the smiles that lit up the faces of Basu and Mamata as they posed for cameras, the 94-year-old reaching out to the lady at the other end of the political spectrum with an affectionate pat on the shoulder.

The Kodak moment was not as dramatic as their last month’s meeting which broke ice but not the Nandigram deadlock. “I will turn 94 on July 8. I want a solution in Nandigram and Singur before that,” he had said then. The birthday wish was not fulfilled.

However, unlike then when Basu had called her over, the initiative this time came from Mamata, who flew in from Chennai and drove to the former chief minister’s home.

The irony could not have been starker: in Chennai, Mamata had wrapped up a roadshow that wound its way from Delhi and Kerala highlighting the CPM’s “atrocities in Nandigram and Singur”.

The golden figurine gifted to the former chief minister by an NGO. Picture Gour Sharma

Keen not to raise fresh hopes of a breakthrough that would allow evicted CPM supporters to return to Nandigram, Mamata said her visit was “purely out of social courtesy”.

Basu, too, sought to clear the air. “She has come to wish me on my birthday. We did not discuss other things. Peace will return in time.”

Nevertheless, there was little doubt that Mamata was revelling in the charm offensive.

Displaying an acumen in public relations that was in evidence when she met the Prime Minister with her grievances last week and when she called on Jayalalithaa in Chennai earlier today, Mamata did not forget to bring a bouquet of flowers and a box of mishti for Basu.

She added a dash of poignancy by recalling the CPM patriarch’s wistful words when they met last on June 4. “That day, you told me that you would turn 94 on July 8 but don’t know how long you would live. Since then I had decided to visit your place on your birthday this time,’’ she said. This is the first time the one-time sworn enemies of Bengal politics are meeting on such an occasion.

Basu, too, reciprocated her warmth. “I am a little surprised but happy that you have come,” he said, allowing a wide grin to break his usual poker-faced equanimity.

Mamata was not through yet. She advised reporters not to bother too much the “seniormost politician of the country” who was tired after a hectic day. She also directed Basu’s aides how to help him get into the car for spending the rest of the evening at his son’s place.

CPM leaders said they knew Mamata would play the “Basu card” again — at the earlier meeting, she had succeeded in reopening the Singur land controversy — but were not sure of the timing.

The event — which overshadowed a call from Sonia Gandhi as well as photo-ops with actress Rituparna Sengupta and the regulation schoolchildren — will give Mamata a chance to claim the public-relations upper hand in the propaganda war with the CPM.

Communists usually don’t celebrate birthdays — the reason why chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee limited his role to a phone call to Basu.

But not everything played out according to the communist script that prohibits idol worship. Basu was gifted a golden figurine of himself by an NGO associated with Subhas Chakraborty’s wife.

It was sculpted by Sushanta Roy, who had earlier made a wax replica of Basu. The 15-inch figurine, made using 115gm of gold, cost Rs 1.5 lakh.

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