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Mamata on Modi: ‘Do I have to go?’

Mamata, Modi and Mitra

Siliguri, June 2: Mamata Banerjee has discounted the possibility of an immediate meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wondering aloud if she needed to go to Delhi when her party has 42 MPs pushing the state’s case in the capital.

At a news conference in the Siliguri secretariat Uttar Kanya, the Bengal chief minister was asked if she would meet Modi or speak to him on an ambitious road project that would connect Siliguri with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

“The chief secretary has already taken up the matter. If required, he will talk to Delhi again,” Mamata said.

“Do I have to go to Delhi when I have 45 MPs in Parliament?” she asked. “Most of them (the MPs) have either reached the capital or will be there by tomorrow,” the Bengal chief minister said.

Mamata is one of three chief ministers who led their parties to victory in their respective states despite a wave favouring Modi in the Lok Sabha elections.

The other two chief ministers are Odisha’s Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalithaa of Tamil Nadu. Patnaik met Modi today, Jayalalithaa is scheduled to meet the Prime Minister tomorrow.

Mamata harboured ambitions of floating a non-BJP and non-Congress federal front with Jayalalithaa, Patnaik and other regional leaders, but the sweeping mandate in favour of the BJP put paid to the plans.

Before Modi took oath as Prime Minister, there was speculation whether Mamata would attend the ceremony and what her equation with Modi would be. Mamata eventually sent Trinamul all-India general secretary Mukul Roy and Amit Mitra, the state’s finance and industries minister, to the swearing-in.

Jayalalithaa did not attend Modi’s oath-taking to protest Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s visit to the ceremony. But the Tamil Nadu chief minister is scheduled to meet Modi on Tuesday to discuss financial assistance for her state, which could give her the opportunity to rekindle the bonhomie she shared with Modi when he was the Gujarat chief minister.

Trinamul insiders said the fear of losing minority votes and the attacks she had launched against Modi during the Lok Sabha poll campaign in Bengal made it difficult for Mamata to directly get in touch with the Prime Minister.

According to Trinamul sources, Mamata was trying to keep open channels of communication with the Centre through Mitra, who is well-known in Delhi’s political and business circles since his days as the Ficci secretary-general.

The Trinamul sources said that being the state finance minister, Mitra was within his right to interact with Union finance minister Arun Jaitley. “Since he is the Bengal finance minister, he can meet Union finance minister over demands for his state. A working relationship can be developed. It would depend on how things unfold in the coming days,” a senior Trinamul leader said.

The Lok Sabha voting figures have shown that the BJP has emerged as a force to reckon with in 21 Assembly seats and in some municipalities where elections are scheduled in June. The state BJP has already started exerting pressure on the government to check on post-poll violence.

A team of BJP national-level leaders had threatened to seek the Centre’s intervention after giving the state 24 hours to act against those who had attacked party supporters in Sandeshkhali in North 24-Parganas.