The Telegraph
Friday , April 21 , 2017

Didi keeps alive non-BJP front hope

- ‘Courtesy calls’ in Odisha and Delhi, no word on politics

Mamata Banerjee presents a bouquet to Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar on Thursday

Bhubaneswar, April 20: Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee today kept speculation alive on a national non-BJP front, saying it was an ongoing process.

“It is a continuing process,” she said in response to a question on her proposal for unity of regional political powerhouses not aligned with the BJP.

“We love all regional parties and they must continue,” she said after a 10-minute meeting with Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik in Bhubaneswar.

Mamata, who presented Naveen with a bouquet of white lilies — his favourite flower — also underscored the need for strengthening the country’s federal structure.

“The federal structure must be strengthened in tune with the Constitution,” she said.

She continued with her diatribe against the BJP and alleged that it was a divisive political force.

“They buy ministers and MLAs. They divide Hindus and Muslims and also divide Hindus. But regional parties are strong enough to tackle them,” she said.

Asked if she considered the Naveen-led BJD her natural ally, the Trinamul chief appeared reluctant to commit, but said she had a lot of respect for the Odisha ruling party.

On whether she would support a candidate proposed by the BJD in the upcoming presidential polls, Mamata said she would talk to the Odisha chief minister if he came up with a proposal. 

The statement is significant given that the new President has to take office in July but the BJD is yet to show its cards. In the last presidential election, the BJD had thrown its weight behind P.A. Sangma though it meant aligning with the BJP.

Anti-BJP forces would like the BJD to vote with them if there is a contest for the office of the President this time.

Mamata, who was presented with a shawl and a silver filigree memento by the Odisha chief minister, recalled her association with his father, the Late Biju Patnaik.

“I was a young (Union) minister of state when he was  chief minister. He was very fond of me. Once I was in Raipur and he had sent a plane to fetch me from there,” she said while paying her respects to Biju Patnaik and his wife Gyan. 

She also spoke about her strong bond with Odisha, saying the two neighbours had great respect for each other. “Naveen is the chief minister here and I belong to Bengal. We keep in touch.” 

Both chief ministers, however, described their meeting as a “courtesy” gesture where no politics was discussed.

While Naveen blocked all queries from the media, Mamata was forthcoming and fielded questions from journalists.

Mamata is the second regional leader to meet Naveen in the past one month after Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who had called on him on March 7.

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