|Left forefinger spearing the air, Mamata Banerjee seeks to ‘bell’ the UPA cat at the Town Hall
in Calcutta on Tuesday. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, Sept. 18: Mamata Banerjee did something different at this evening’s crucial party meeting where Trinamul decided “unanimously” to part ways with the UPA by Friday.
During the three-hour discussions, which a senior leader described as one of the longest in memory, the chief minister allowed others to do the talking before speaking her mind.
That was a rarity at Trinamul meetings where the usual practice is that Mamata speaks and the others listen, sources said.
“She usually does most of the talking at party meetings. This meeting was different. She asked for the opinion of others, big and small leaders, before speaking her mind,” said a senior central minister who has been associated with Mamata for many years.
Although Mamata later claimed the pullout decision was “unanimous”, some Trinamul sources present at the meeting said two MPs and a junior central minister had suggested delaying the withdrawal of support to the government.
“One MP suggested we should wait for some more time. A minister said the ministers should resign immediately but the party should wait before withdrawing support. But Mamata said she had given enough time to the Congress. The others too disagreed with them (the go-slow advocates),” a senior MP said.
Sources said the minister also cited the possible impact of a pullout on ongoing railway projects but Mamata stopped him.
“His argument was that the railway projects in the state would suffer if we pulled out altogether,” a source said.
Mamata had announced on Friday that she would wait for three days before taking any “tough decision”. She arrived at the Town Hall at 5.11pm today. By then, most of the MPs, central ministers, state ministers and other party functionaries had taken their seats.
Insiders said Mamata asked former railway minister Dinesh Trivedi to speak first, to be followed by Basirhat MP Haji Nurul Islam.
From seniors such as state panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee, railway minister Mukul Roy and state commerce and industries minister Partha Chatterjee to first time MLAs like Becharam Manna, almost every leader got a chance to speak.
“The meeting continued for three hours as she wanted to get the majority view before announcing her decision. Besides, there was a 20-25 minute tea break,” an MLA said.
Trinamul insiders said that though today’s meeting was scheduled as a parliamentary party meeting, Mamata widened the list of invitees to get the views of a cross-section of party leaders and not just the MPs.
“Within the first 10 minutes, the tone of the meeting was set. It became evident what the outcome would be. Most of the speakers felt the time was right to pull out of the alliance,” a senior party leader said.
The junior central ministers were unhappy and complained about no work being assigned to them. Many speakers cited the “snub” from Union finance minister P. Chidambaram, who had ruled out any rollback of the reforms measures on Monday.
Addressing a news conference later, Mamata did refer to some party leaders’ worries about the loss of the railway portfolio though she did not mention names.
“One or two people may feel that the railways would be a big loss. We will do it again. If people want it, we will get not just the railways but much more…. There is no need to worry…. Sometimes, some matters have to be left with the people,” Mamata said.
A Trinamul leader said she had used similar words at the meeting, patiently explaining in detail why she was against Trinamul remaining within the ruling alliance at the Centre.
“Mamatadi said the party’s ideology and pro-people stance could not be compromised. She repeated several times that Trinamul could not be party to decisions that hurt the common people,” a state minister said.
Party leaders said Mamata spoke with clarity and confidence.
“She said the party had to oppose the anti-people policies of the Centre, such as further opening of the insurance sector, and explain to the people why the party was doing so,” a source said.
The leader added that Mamata was confident of consolidating her position further in state politics during the next general election.
Trinamul sources said Mamata was aware that the CPM would oppose the Centre’s move on the pension and insurance sectors and did not want to cede space to her arch-foe. The party feels she has sent a message to the voters that she remains with the people.