The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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In retreat, Mamata pretends fight
- Reluctant to be seen as party that drove out Tatas, Trinamul without option

Last May, Mamata Banerjee could not do anything but accept the Assembly poll result for what it was — a complete rout for herself and a sweeping mandate for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The battle over Singur would have been pretty much the same story. She is pretty much defeated once again. Worse, she seems to have given up the fight before joining it in earnest. The difference now is that she would not be seen as accepting defeat and must hence carry on with the pretence of a fight.

That is really at the heart of the Trinamul Congress’s refusal to attend the all-party meeting on Singur on Wednesday. The only way to make any political sense of it is to see it as Mamata’s unwillingness to play ball with the chief minister over Singur. And, the only plausible explanation for her response is that she does not want to join a game which she knows she has all but lost even before taking the field.

If that sounds a rather sweeping judgement, consider the events in the run-up to Wednesday’s meeting. Trinamul, read Mamata, says it is staying away from the all-party meeting in protest against the police action on her supporters at Singur. It is not satisfied with the chief minister’s statement that the police action had better been avoided. It falls short, according to her, of her demand for a public apology for the incident from Bhattacharjee.

So, it is now about police action, not about the agriculture-versus-industry issue or the fate of the Singur farmers. That is not just a climbdown — it is what they call a tectonic shift.

Remember that even as the Congress threw in its lot with Mamata, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi had set the tone. He condemned the police action and said absolutely nothing on opposing the Tatas’ automobile project. Seasoned politician that he is, he knows the price the opponents of the project might end up paying in Bengal’s politics.

Meanwhile, Mamata stays on in hospital. Neither she nor her party attempts a second foray at Singur, where farmers queue up to collect their compensation cheques. The distribution of cheques resumes after the puja break.

Looking back a little further, Mamata did sit below the Gandhi statue on the Maidan before moving into the hospital. But the Maidan sit-in ended even before the people really came to know about it. It made no impact at all even on the Park Street-Mayo Road agitation centre while it lasted.

Given her track record, her exit from the scene so soon and so quietly must have mystified even her very own flock. The change of scene to a hospital can only be explained as a retreat.

But then, she must make it an honourable retreat before she is forced to actually exit. Hence the Bangla bandh call. The bandh’s duration is subsequently reduced to 12 hours from the initial 24.

Then comes Bhattacharjee’s call to the all-party meeting. There is really nothing that her party can offer. It cannot be seen as the party behind the Tatas’ pulling out of the project and from Bengal.

Even the Congress, which temporarily made common cause with her, decided to attend the meeting. Before that, the party said it would like the government to keep the Tatas in Bengal. That is retreat, clear and simple. Mamata, however, would not retreat without kicking up a bit of dust in the air.

The chief minister, on the other hand, has everything going for his strategy. He knows Mamata is in retreat, but has offered her an honourable exit route via the all-party meeting. Despite being the police minister, he has almost condemned the action of the police.

His party colleague, Biman Bose, said what the chief minister could not – that the police had no option but to act if agitators raided a thana.

If Bhattacharjee has been conciliatory and mature in his responses, that is because he thinks his is a win-win situation. Mamata’s first charge has been uncharacteristically light and aimless. Singur has been quiet and its farmers’ responses very different from what Trinamul leaders thought they would be.

The all-party meeting would only show that Bhattacharjee’s government was not only acquiring land all right but was also making the right political noises. There is really nothing much that the meeting can discuss or do to change the scene at Singur. It can only serve a political purpose for the chief minister.

On the Bangla bandh day or any other day, Mamata can still sing a different tune over Singur. But it will not be music to her own ears. She already knows this. Hence a retreat that would not look like defeat.

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