Calcutta, Sept. 26: Mamata Banerjee has refused to slam the door on an alliance with the Congress in the future, taking care to spare Sonia Gandhi while launching an acid-dripping assault on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his government.
In an interview to Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN, the Bengal chief minister danced around or declined to answer categorically questions on the possibility of a future tie-up with the Congress.
“I can’t say about tomorrow’s strategy. The party will have to decide. I can decide today’s strategy. But I’m fed up with them. I can’t give my individual opinion. I’ve a party with me and I have to take them into confidence,” Mamata said, asked about the possibility of a tie-up if the Congress sought her support after the next Lok Sabha polls.
In the hour-long interview with Sardesai in Calcutta, Mamata said the Prime Minister was not a “grassroot man”, mimicked his soft-spoken style, rooted for fiscal autonomy in so aggressive a manner that it barely stopped short of cutting the umbilical cord with the Centre and batted for a federal front of chief ministers to lobby for more powers for states.
But Mamata did not give an unequivocal answer on whether she would support a resolution against FDI in Parliament. Mamata first said her party would decide and then added that she would support a resolution if Mulayam Singh Yadav committed that he would not change his stand.
The chief minister’s vituperative attack on the Prime Minister suggested that she has concluded that the crisis-ridden UPA-II would be little more than a liability for allies and she is keeping her options open for a post-Manmohan era.
Mamata steered clear of criticising the Congress president, saying she and Sonia Gandhi shared a “personal relationship” and she had messaged Sonia to save the alliance.
“I am not saying anything against Soniaji because of personal relationship. I sent a message to Soniaji saying ‘Madam, please save the alliance. (The) alliance should not break’,” the chief minister said.
She sidestepped a question if she would have desisted from withdrawing support had Sonia called her. The long duration (3 hours) of the Town Hall meeting where the decision was taken had fuelled suggestions that Mamata was waiting for a call from Sonia.
Although Mamata dodged questions on a future alliance, she did not miss the opportunity to ridicule the state Congress. Mamata hurled a challenge at the state Congress leaders, saying that the Bengal unit would not win a single seat in the next Lok Sabha polls without Trinamul.
However, she insisted it was the Congress, not her party, that had walked out of the alliance in the state. “In Bengal they have broken the alliance. It is not that we have broken it.”
The assertion leaves Mamata with room for manoeuvre if she gauges before the next general election that she cannot afford a split in the anti-Left vote. Several imponderables — such as the rise of the BJP, the Congress pockets that have withstood erosion, state-level anti-incumbency —will be at play between now and the next elections.
According to Mamata, the general election will take place next year after the UPA presents a “populist budget for eyewash”.
On the Prime Minister and the UPA, Mamata did not pull any punches. “It’s stable of the corruption, by the corruption and for the corruption. It’s stable from the point of view of Congress (I). It is not stable from the point of view of the public.”
Mamata also struck at the root of the Prime Minister’s USP, saying that in the name of reforms, “horror and disaster” were going on.
Asked if she would support a “federal front”, Mamata said she would. But her immediate thrust appeared to be on ensuring more powers to the states rather than cobbling together a political combine. “I will be happy to do it if the regional chief ministers can sit together for the future of the country…. States should be more powerful. India should be run from different parts of the country,” Mamata said.
Eyes blazing, the chief minister declared that the Centre should stop collecting taxes from states and agreed with the interviewer that she was seeking “fiscal autonomy” for states.
“The Centre collects income tax, sales tax, corporate tax. They distribute 32 per cent of the taxes collected among the states. Why should this be? If we get the money, we won’t need any help. We will take the responsibility. Let the debate start,” she said.
Told Omar Abdullah was in favour of FDI in retail, Mamata said: “Let him take it. Centre gives Jammu & Kashmir so much money…. He has so many beautiful places… and we are proud of it. I am not going to quarrel but he cannot decide our future. He cannot decide India’s future.”
Asked if she was eyeing the Prime Minister’s seat, the chief minister said: “I am not their leader. I am happy to be their ladder.”
Mamata slipped in a claim that strengthens suspicions Pranab Mukherjee was not the Congress’s first choice for President. “Because of me Pranab Mukherjee got elected. Pranabda also knows…. This was not a plan, but it happens,” Mamata said.