The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mamata: challenge in & out
Not in hiding, but in crisis

Calcutta May 11: When it became clear around noon that the Left Front was triggering a landslide, a Congressman thought of finding out what Mamata Banerjee was up to.

He called up his opposite number in Mamata's party.

'They (the CPM) appear to have shrunk her this time,' he said. 'How has she taken the blow' Tell me if I need to look her up and offer a few words of comfort.'

'It's a big blow,' came the reply. 'But sorry to disapp- oint you, Didi has neither bolted the door nor gone to her un- cle's at Rampurhat to satisfy the CPM. And nor will she turn to you for solace.'

It was a riposte to state CPM secretary Biman Bose's dig at Mamata a few days ago that the CPM-led front's performance would be formidable enough to make Mamata flee to her uncle in the Birbhum town, about 270 km from Calcutta.

'Uni Rampurhat-e mamar bari palaben,' Bose had said.

Congress and Trinamul insiders, who were privy to several unpublicised developments during the day, said Trinamul functionaries, jolted by the rout, tried to ascertain:

• What the future holds for Mamata and her party

• Whether Mamata, now a large number of legislators short, would be able to keep Trinamul together and blunt a possible challenge to her leadership from within

• Whether Mamata still occupies space in Congress president Sonia Gandhi's mind and

• Whether she would be able to ride out the opposition from two Union ministers, Pranab Mukherjee and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, and join hands with the Congress to attempt a return to political centre stage.

'We'll have to analyse the reasons for the debacle,' Mamata told a news conference.

She had come to know earlier that the split in anti-Left votes between the Congress and Trinamul had swung the scale in favour of the CPM and its partners in at least 50 seats.

Two of her admirers in the Congress, Abdul Mannan and Shankar Singh, who even risked a confrontation with the party brass by advocating an alliance with Trinamul, lost Champdani and Ranaghat West to the CPM.

The not-so-prominent Trinamul candidates whom Mamata had fielded there actually mopped up a sizeable number of anti-Left votes to cause the upsets.

The Trinamul rout has definitely put a question mark on her ability to reinvigorate the party and hold it together through a crisis of survival.

Two incidents summed up the unfolding situation. Minutes after securing a second term, a Trinamul MLA from South 24-Parganas told the party chief's confidants: 'I managed my own funds and manpower without any help from Didi. I can say I won on my merit.'

A Trinamul MLA from north Calcutta said: 'Now we'll have to tell her that Trinamul needs to be run like an organised political party and not to be appended to someone's apron-strings.'

The comments are indicative of a not-so-certain future for Mamata, whose leadership, according to signals, might come under attack from a large section of the party.

Her aides quoted her as saying that she expected the CPM-Congress relationship to be strengthened at the Centre thanks to the Bengal election outcome. 'She said she would watch the course of national politics for the next one year before making any move,' another aide added.

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