|Chidambaram and Mamata
July 6: Mamata Banerjee today wrote to P. Chidambaram protesting his remark about Bengal’s “culture of violence”, disputing his statistics and asking what prompted him to provide these figures.
“I asked him three things in my letter,” the chief minister said while leaving Writers’ this evening. “First, I asked him what prompted him to provide these figures. Second, I asked him what his source for these figures was. And third, I pointed out that his figures were not correct.”
The Union home minister had told a business chamber event in Calcutta yesterday that 136 people had met a violent end in Bengal last year and 82 in the first half of this year. He did not specify whether these figures related directly to inter-party clashes, nor did he mention his sources.
The state government countered his claim with its own figures: 62 deaths in political clashes in 2011 and only five this year.
Trinamul leaders close to Mamata said she was extremely annoyed at Chidambaram’s comment and felt the Congress was looking to embarrass her because of her opposition to its presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee.
State minister Subrata Mukherjee alleged Chidambaram’s comments were “a pre-meditated move to browbeat Trinamul ahead of the President’s election”, a view echoed by his ministerial colleague Firhad Hakim, who was in Delhi today.
Congress leader Abdul Mannan retaliated that Chidambaram’s comment had nothing to do with the presidential election and that Trinamul’s support was no longer necessary to ensure Pranab’s victory.
“The Congress candidate is already assured more than 50 per cent of the votes. There is no need for Trinamul support. They are irrelevant,” he told reporters. Before today, no Congress leader had said on record that Trinamul’s votes did not matter.
Mannan rallied behind Chidambaram, alleging Congress workers were being attacked now as they used to be under Left rule.
Leader of the Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra said Chidambaram had spoken the truth but wondered about the timing. “He has spoken the truth. I don’t know why he didn’t speak earlier; I don’t know why he is speaking now. Maybe because relations are strained between the two (Congress and Trinamul),” the CPM leader said.
In Delhi, government and Congress leaders saw nothing wrong in Chidambaram’s comments and described the state government’s reaction as “uncalled for”.
Although the Congress avoided locking horns with the ally in public, the dominant view was that Chidambaram had done no wrong in raising the problem of political killings, which have no place in a democracy.
“This is a fact of life in certain parts of the country, particularly Bengal, Tripura and Kerala. We should not forget that all these three states have very powerful Leftist politics. Why is Mamata taking this as an attack on her?” a senior Congress leader said.
Party spokesperson Renuka Chaudhury refused comment saying she was not aware of the controversy, but Bengal minder Shakeel Ahmed gave a cautious reply.
“This relates to a comment made by the Union home minister about certain incidents in a state. Both governments (Centre and state) will have facts and figures to support their claim. The party does not have anything to say except that the Congress believes in peaceful politics and opposes the culture of violence,” he said.
Some Congress leaders, however, questioned the timing of Chidambaram’s remarks — so close to the presidential election.
“Sending Chidambaram to Calcutta at this juncture was a wrong decision. His relations with Mamata have been strained for the past few years,” one leader argued. He suggested that someone who enjoys a rapport with Mamata should have gone to Calcutta instead.
But there were few takers for this line of argument. Many Congress leaders feel there is nothing wrong in a “blow-hot-blow-cold” approach towards Mamata.
“She has been a factor in slowing down reforms. We must begin to negotiate with her firmly,” a minister said.
Asked about Sonia’s instructions that nothing should be done to bring the alliance under greater strain, the minister said: “Who is breaking the alliance? But that does not mean a central minister will not state facts.”