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Modi makes Didi discover Opposition
- Bloc & Cong MLAs in team to discuss floods, shift in strategy to keep BJP at bay

Madarihat, June 5: Mamata Banerjee has included two Opposition MLAs in a delegation that will visit Delhi to discuss a master plan for flood prevention in north Bengal, the move marking a change in the chief minister’s approach to opponents both at the state and the Centre.

The Uttar Banga Unnayan Parshad delegation, likely to visit Delhi after the end of the Assembly’s month-long budget session, will be the first official team from Bengal to engage in a dialogue with the Narendra Modi government.

Mamata has so far avoided establishing any direct contact with the new Prime Minister although her Odisha and Tamil Nadu counterparts have met Modi with specific demands for their states.

Mamata, on the other hand, has decided to rely on elected representatives from Trinamul and Opposition parties, excluding the BJP as it does not have an MLA in Bengal, and bureaucrats.

Forward Bloc MLA Udayan Guha and Congress legislator D.P. Roy have agreed to be part of the delegation. Both MLAs are members of the Uttar Banga Unnayan Parshad, a statutory body.

“A team from the Uttar Banga Unnayan Parshad will go to Delhi for talks on flood-control measures in north Bengal. Thousands of crores of rupees are required for this and without central assistance, this will not be possible. This is a very big project. A new government has come, let us see what it does,” Mamata said at Jalpaiguri’s Madarihat after a meeting of the 11-member Parshad.

She said the state government would request the Centre to prepare a master plan to prevent floods.

According to the plan, irrigation minister Rajib Banerjee and north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb will meet Union water resources minister Uma Bharati to discuss the flood-control plan, release of funds for irrigation projects and Bengal’s inclusion in the Brahmaputra River Commission.

The decision to send a delegation and ensure Opposition presence in it signals a shift in Mamata’s stance as her party avoided being part of such teams when it was in the Opposition. Even after coming to power in 2011, Mamata had hardly expressed any interest in building a consensus with the Opposition on issues related to the development of the state. She had avoided answering questions raised by Opposition MLAs in the House.

“For the sake of north Bengal’s development, I am ready to be a part of the delegation,” said Guha, the Bloc MLA from Dinhata in Cooch Behar.

“She (Mamata) never included the Opposition in any of her plans after becoming chief minister. When she was in the Opposition, she never co-operated with the government. But we do not believe in such politics and so, we will be part of the delegation,” he added.

After coming to power, Mamata had held two all-party meetings — to change the state’s name from West Bengal to Paschimbanga and to rid Calcutta’s heritage zone of hoardings. However, there has hardly been any working relationship between the ruling and Opposition parties.

Trinamul sources said political developments after the Lok Sabha polls had prompted Mamata to change her strategy. “The Bengal unit of the BJP is on an organisational expansion overdrive and Mamata knows that she would need the support of the other Opposition parties in Bengal to keep the BJP at bay. By including the Left and the Congress in the government team, she is trying to isolate the BJP,” a source close to the chief minister said.

On the request of the state unit, a central BJP team visited Bengal last week to meet victims of post-poll violence in Sandeshkhali and demand action against the accused. The BJP has intensified its campaign against the state government by launching protests over a series of issues, including the government’s apparent lack of initiative to start the process of holding elections to civic bodies.

“So, she (Mamata) is likely to be more accommodating of parties other than the BJP,” a source said.