Mamata in Delhi on Tuesday. (Rajesh Kumar)
Calcutta, Oct. 27: Mamata Banerjee obviously intended it to be one more evidence of the failure of the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government, but her presentation of the families of Maoist victims at a news conference in Delhi had a more important political fine print: she seems to be distancing herself from the rebels.
She also asked the Centre to use the army against the Maoists.
This was the first time that she had publicly taken up the cause of the victims of Maoist violence. But there have been other signals in recent weeks that Mamata is increasingly finding the Maoists more a liability than an asset in her fight against the CPM.
This explains why she only expressed her shock at the Maoist attack on Sankrail police station. Two policemen were killed in the raid and the officer-in-charge, Atindranath Dutta, was abducted. Uncharacteristically, she did not even use the incident to condemn the state government or the CPM.
Mamata had problems with using ultra-Left associates even earlier. Her party activists recall an occasion when she had invited Siddhartha Shankar Ray, former chief minister, to attend one of her protest rallies in Calcutta against the CPM. Some of her Naxalite fellow-travellers strongly objected, referring to the killing of hundreds of Naxalites during Rays regime in the Seventies.
Mamata had to give in to their objections and called up Ray, who was already on his way to the rally, to tell him not to come.
But her latest effort to debunk suggestions that she is in league with the Maoists has a different context. A few weeks earlier, the Maoists had killed a Trinamul Congress gram panchayat pradhan, Nishikanta Mandal, in Nandigram.
Although Mamata had promptly blamed the CPM for the murder, the Maoists openly claimed responsibility for it. Mandal was a popular figure during the anti-land acquisition movement in Nandigram and his murder caused panic in the area.
The Congress organised a protest rally in Nandigram, but Trinamul activists were upset that the party had not publicly denounced the Maoists for the murder.
The Maoists, rather than the CPM, were proving to be the new terror, the Trinamul activists had realised, and put pressure on local leaders to tackle it.
We have been suggesting to Mamatadi that the party should not soft-pedal the Maoist issue and instead take a firm stand. Her decision to take the relatives of the two police constables, abducted by the Maoists, to the Union home minister has vindicated our position that she should take the threat from the Maoists seriously, said Trinamul president Subrata Bakshi.
A Union minister who accompanied Mamata to Delhi confirmed that she had submitted to home minister P. Chidambaram documents to show how the Maoists had dangerously consolidated their base in Bankura, West Midnapore and Purulia, taking advantage of the deprivations tribal people face.
But Trinamul leaders and activists know that Mamata is not used to changing her position under pressure from even her closest aides. If she is now distancing herself from the Maoists, she has her own reasons.
According to Trinamul sources, the growing fear and resentment over the Maoist killings, especially in urban areas, has forced Mamata to change her stand regarding the rebels. Even many intellectuals who were with her in supporting the tribal revolt in Lalgarh are increasingly uncomfortable with the Maoists completely taking over the movement.
It was one thing for them to support an agitation, even if violent, supposedly against the deprivation of poor tribals and quite another to defend killings by Maoists. The self-projection of Maoist leader Kishanji on the media also confused many of them.
Mamata also does not want to completely alienate policemen in lower ranks, whose colleagues are mostly Maoist targets along with CPM activists.
Yet another reason for Mamatas new stand on the Maoists is the rebels themselves. Of late, Kishanji and other Maoist leaders have increasingly criticised both the CPM and Mamata in the same breath.
Even the day the Sankrail OC was released by the Maoists, Kishanjis address was laced with criticism of Trinamul.
The Maoists know that her demand for withdrawal of the joint forces from Lalgarh or imposition of Presidents rule in Bengal is a political ploy and will not be conceded by the Centre.
Another plausible reason, a Trinamul leader said, is Mamatas feeling that her party now had more public support than a much-weakened CPM.
The Maoists have helped in weakening the Marxists for her and she feels that she can now do without the rebels in her race for capturing Writers Buildings in 2011.