|Biman Bose at Nabanna.
Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
Calcutta, June 9: They came, they nibbled at fish fry and she conquered.
Mamata Banerjee today carpet-bombed a Left delegation with such a charm offensive that war-horses like Biman Bose were left wondering at the end of the session whether they went to discuss how to keep Narendra Modi out of Bengal or poll-related attacks on their cadres.
By offering tea, sympathy and a lecture on how to tackle Modi’s party, the chief minister sent an unmistakable message: the Left that straddled Bengal like a colossus for decades is a spent force now and the challenger worthy of her attention is the BJP whose account in the Assembly is yet to cross one MLA.
“What happened today was really humiliating…. Our supporters are suffering because of Trinamul and she gave us a lecture,” said a senior CPM leader.
The Left leaders had sought the appointment with the chief minister as part of a strategy to embarrass her and send a message to the crestfallen cadres.
It also left the goalpost open for a free kick by the BJP that bagged 16.8 per cent votes in the Lok Sabha polls. “I find this development funny… The Trinamul and the Left are trying to come together to stop the BJP. Today, the first meeting was held,” said Rahul Sinha, the state BJP president.
Few in Trinamul would entertain such heretical thoughts, though many comrades have rued in private that Mamata is more Left than the Left and that is why the revolution was lost.
But one Left leader did say: “The latent message was, ‘don’t fight me, fight the BJP, which is our common enemy’.”
The Left veterans should have suspected something was amiss when they were received on the 14th floor of Nabanna by Mamata herself, smiling, hands folded and a picture of graciousness.
“Kemon laglo Nabanna (How did you like Nabanna)?” Mamata was quoted as asking the Left leaders while leading them to her chamber. The question must have touched a wistful nerve, considering that the current secretariat complex was originally built by the Left regime to house a textile hub.
The high-level reception was in sharp contrast with the one that greeted the BJP’s central delegation that called on the chief secretary on May 31 to report atrocities on party workers in Sandeshkhali in North 24-Parganas.
“The day the BJP leaders had come, the room where news conferences are held was under lock and key…. Although the chief minister was aware of the team’s arrival, she did not attend office that day and the delegation left after meeting the chief secretary,” a government official recalled.
This evening, the chief minister, along with education minister Partha Chatterjee, spent around 70 minutes in her chamber with the Left team.
The team included Left Front chairman and CPM state secretary Bose, CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb, former PWD minister Kshiti Goswami, former Forward Bloc MP Jayanta Ray and CPI state secretary Manju Majumdar.
Sources in the Left said that they were surprised first when Mamata agreed to meet the delegation after a letter was sent seeking an audience to brief her on how Left supporters were being victimised across the state.
A bigger surprise was in store today as Mamata welcomed the team with tea, fish fry and cake, followed by coffee even as the guests tried to take up the main agenda.
“From the way she handled our delegation, it is clear that she met us to suit her own end and signal that her main opponent now is the BJP,” said a Left leader.
Apprehending that they were running out of time as the chief minister maintains a busy schedule in the afternoon, the Left leaders tried drawing her attention to how over 48,500 activists were driven out of their homes and could not even come home for harvest.
“I will look into it on a case-by-case basis,” the chief minister said.
After flipping through an 11-page memorandum from the Left, Mamata took the discussion to a different trajectory.
First, she contested the accusation that the Left supporters were victims of Trinamul-led atrocities. “I can assure (you) that Trinamul is not behind all these,” she was quoted as saying.
Bose, who was quietly listening till then, could not but make a minor interjection. “All our party offices are being captured by Trinamul,” the Left Front chairman said.
The chief minister replied: “That must have been before the elections… Now, you go and check, the BJP is doing all this.”
Mamata, with long experience in the Opposition, then served up advice on how to hold its ground against a BJP onslaught.
“You were attacking me before the elections. Look, what happened. Whatever votes you had lost, they have gone to the BJP.”
Bose tried to interject with the suggestion that Trinamul might have also lost some votes to the BJP.
“What are you saying? Your votes have dwindled significantly… See, how can Adhir (Chowdhury) win with a 3.5-lakh margin if your votes haven’t gone to the BJP?” a source quoted Mamata as asking.
Bose, who has been facing similar questions in the party, did not have an answer.
“You please try to keep your Front intact… As long as I am the chief minister, I will do my bit to prevent Modi from making a foray in Bengal,” the chief minister was quoted as saying.
Bose tried to ask how his party would wage a battle if party activists are framed in false cases but Mamata said: “Dhur, kono false case nei, (Rubbish, there aren’t any false cases).”
By then, the Left leaders had realised that their mission had backfired and they tried to wrap up the conversation but the chief minister was in no mood to let up.
She ordered another round of coffee, ignoring mild protests from the guests.
Till the coffee came, Mamata replaced politics with personal charm. She enquired about the well-being of the delegation members, starting with Bose who is 73.
“You have to take care of your health to be in politics,” she reportedly advised the members, requesting them to take proper care in the intense heat.
The delegation again tried to broach the main topic and told the chief minister that they would be forced to stage a movement if atrocities against their supporters continued.
“Please do movements, be visible… That’s the main job of us politicians,” Mamata apparently replied, nodding in agreement.
By then the clock showed 6.10pm and the delegation sought her permission to leave, saying they did not want to keep the chief minister off her schedule.
“OK… You please be in touch and let me or Parthada know in case you have concerns. And please remember the things I told you today,” Mamata summed up, before seeing off the delegation to the elevator. She asked Chatterjee to accompany them till the parking lot.
On the way out of Nabanna, Bose said: “The chief minister earnestly heard out the delegation. We gave her facts and figures…. Let’s see whether this meeting yields results.”