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Mamata books non-Cong seats
- Akhilesh offers a way out

March 10: The Trinamul Congress has dropped loud hints that chief minister Mamata Banerjee is set to attend the swearing-in events of Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab and Akhilesh Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh in the middle of the budget session of Parliament next week.

“Just learnt that Mamatadi will be going to both Lucknow and Chandigarh for the CM swearing in ceremonies,” Trinamul MP Derek ’Brien tweeted tonight, confirming suggestions from the party camp that Mamata is “enthused” by the invites from the Akali Dal and the Samajwadi Party that have their core constituencies outside Bengal.

However, Mamata herself remained non-committal in public during the day.

Akhono thik korini (we haven’t decided yet),” Mamata said in the afternoon, in response to reporters’ questions, after an unscheduled meeting with Congress general secretary Shakeel Ahmed who called on her at Writers’ Buildings. Till then she had received an invitation only from Badal, a BJP ally.

The invitation later from Akhilesh, the young chief minister-designate in Uttar Pradesh, appears to have given Mamata the “secular” reason to accept the goodwill gestures.

As the Samajwadi is considered the protector of minority interests, Mamata can now say that since she accepted one invitation, she had to treat the other with the same respect.

Trinamul sources hoped that the Samajawadi parallel would help her blunt suggestions that Mamata shared the platform with Badal’s ally BJP, whose one-time association had eroded her minority base in Bengal. She won back the minority support last year but faces another test in the panchayat polls next year.

Akhilesh had told The Telegraph earlier in the day that Mamata would be invited. Late this evening, the invitation arrived at Writers’ but Mamata had left by then, sources said. ’Brien’s tweet in the night suggests that the message has been conveyed to Mamata.

Trinamul sources said Mamata’s visits should not be construed as anything more than a “personal reciprocal gesture”. But the attendance is certain to shovel fuel into speculation about realignments, which has been swirling since the Assembly poll results were announced earlier this week.

For all of Mamata’s reported assurances that she would not rock the UPA’s boat, Ahmed’s meeting with her a day after the invite from Badal betrayed the Congress’s jitters.

“If she does accept the invitation, it will set the tone for Trinamul’s approach during the budget session of Parliament,” a Congress leader said before clearer signals emerged that Mamata is likely to attend. “It would also suggest that Trinamul could co-operate more with the parties opposing the UPA.”

Mamata may have to skip two key events in Bengal, if she proceeds to Punjab on March 14 and to Lucknow on March 15. March 14 is the anniversary of the Nandigram firing and, on March 15, the budget session of the Bengal Assembly, already deferred by a day, is scheduled to begin. If both these events are bypassed (unless she flies in and flies out on two consecutive days — some Trinamul sources claimed Badal is sending a plane to ferry Mamata), it will send a strong message to the Congress that she is willing to invest time and effort in building friendships outside Bengal.

Ahmed, who said he was asked by the Congress central leadership last night to meet Mamata, tried to play down the invitation from the Akalis. “This does not worry us. Inviting somebody for a function… is not a political gesture. Politics involves human relationships. This should not be considered exclusively political,” Ahmed said. The Congress, too, was getting invitations from “certain corners”, he said.

Sources in Lucknow said the Samajwadi was toying with a proposal to invite all national leaders.

At the meeting at Writers’, Mamata told Ahmed there was no question of Trinamul pulling out of the UPA, Congress sources said. The fight for Bengal’s interests should not be seen as anti-Congressism, she was quoted as saying. The chief minister said her priority was to get a three-year moratorium on debt repayment from the Centre, the sources said.


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