May 24: Mamata Banerjee today warded off the BJP’s attempts to split the Trinamul Congress in the name of revamping the Cabinet, forcing the Central leadership to beat a quick retreat and rallying the morale of her party.
Ending the political drama that has been going on over the last two days, Mamata forced Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee to accept her position as the sole arbiter in Trinamul and defer her comeback into the Cabinet till his return from an overseas tour.
Late tonight, Vajpayee indicated that the doors were still open for Mamata. “There will be a minor reshuffle soon,” he said, denying that the BJP had been trying to break Trinamul.
Mamata’s move was spurred by the BJP leadership’s surprise overnight decision to rope in her bete noire, Sudip Bandopadhyay, as a minister without her sanction. The move was interpreted in Trinamul circles as an unconcealed attempt to break the party.
Pushed to the wall by a series of cleverly programmed BJP moves, Mamata turned down Vajpayee’s offer of a Cabinet berth, skipped the oath-taking and launched her personal battle for survival in the NDA. This stoked memories of last July’s shuffle when she had opted out to protest Eastern Railway’s bifurcation.
“They (BJP) cannot take upon themselves the responsibility of selecting who all will become ministers from my party,” an angry Mamata reportedly told the Trinamul working committee in the morning.
At an emergency meeting of the committee, a strongly-worded fax saying the decision to induct Bandopadhyay went “against the dharma of coalition politics” was sent to the PMO.
Mamata told party members the NDA leadership had at no stage consulted her on Trinamul’s probable representatives in the Union ministry. “How can the BJP decide our party’s representatives in the Cabinet' This goes against the very spirit of coalition politics,” she said. Mamata also hinted she might pull out of the coalition if Vajpayee disregarded her objections.
Mamata’s no-nonsense stand is believed to have pushed the BJP to “keep in abeyance” Trinamul’s re-induction into the Cabinet. BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu called her up to say no decision on the shuffle would be taken without a discussion with her.
Bandopadhyay, who was in Delhi, was also informed. He was not available for comment from the afternoon. In the morning, he had reacted sharply when told of Mamata’s stand. “I will participate in the oath-taking ceremony if Vajpayee invites me to become a minister.”
Late in the evening, Mamata called on suspended Trinamul MP Ajit Panja, an arch rival of Bandopadhyay, at a Salt Lake hospital in an attempt to rebuild bridges with him. Panja responded warmly.