Mamata Banerjee will arrive in Delhi on December 17 to attend the fourth meeting of the INDIA grouping, at a time the fledgling alliance has shown signs of closing ranks to oppose her party MP Mahua Moitra’s expulsion from Parliament.
The Bengal chief minister and Trinamul Congress leader, who is touring north Bengal, announced her Delhi itinerary on Saturday afternoon after arriving at Bagdogra from Kurseong.
The INDIA meeting will be held over two days in Delhi between December 17 and 20, but the specific dates are yet to be decided.
Mamata is also exploring the possibility of calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi during her Delhi trip to reiterate her government’s demand for the release of funds under various central schemes.
The Bengal government has for the last several months been accusing the Centre of unlawfully holding back funds meant for the state owing to political reasons.
“I sent a letter to the Prime Minister on Thursday and sought time from him on any day between December 18 and 20,” the chief minister told reporters.
“I have mentioned that I want to meet him along with a few (Trinamul) MPs to place our demand for the release of funds under central schemes. They are not providing us funds for the 100 days’ work scheme. They have also held back funds under the rural housing and rural roads schemes.... The Centre is not paying its due share even for health infrastructure.”
Chief minister Mamata Banerjee speaks with a man while strolling around Alipurduar town on Saturday afternoon Anirban Choudhury
Trinamul sources said Mamata’s decision to seek an appointment with Modi owed to Union rural development and panchayati raj minister Giriraj Singh’s suggestion that she meet the Prime Minister over the frozen funds.
Reacting to Singh’s suggestion on December 6, Mamata had told reporters she had met Modi three times over the release of central funds, held back for years.
“She doesn’t have anything to lose by sending a request to the Prime Minister’s Office. If the PMO doesn’t grant a meeting, it will help us politically,” a Trinamul source said.
“If the meeting takes place, it will send out the message that she is trying her best to ensure that the Centre releases the funds meant for Bengal.”
The source added: “But the main purpose of the Delhi visit is the INDIA meeting.”
The meeting of the Opposition parties, which want a united fight against the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, has gained in significance following the Congress’s defeat in the Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan polls.
The meeting had originally been scheduled for December 6 — three days after the poll results — but had to be rescheduled because several key leaders including Mamata expressed inability to attend it that day.
“When Rahul Gandhi called and requested her to be at the meeting, she told him to convene a meeting in the third week of this month…. The rescheduling suits her, that’s why she is going,” a Trinamul source said.
The meeting comes amid important political developments over the past week.
First, most INDIA constituents, including Trinamul, blamed the Congress and its strategy for the rout in the three heartland states. They said the debacle could have been averted had the Congress heeded their advice and worked out seat-sharing arrangements.
However, the situation changed when Moitra’s expulsion in a cash-for-query controversy prompted the INDIA constituents — spearheaded by Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi — to rally strongly behind the Trinamul politician.
“Striking scenes were witnessed outside Parliament yesterday (Friday). As Mahua commented on her expulsion, none other than Soniaji stood with her in a show of solidarity. Mamata has expressed appreciation for the support Mahua received,” a political observer said.
While the optics may have raised hopes within the INDIA camp about a resolution to some of the prickly problems, such as seat-sharing, the road ahead for the alliance is full of challenges, the observer said.
“The BJP is on a high after the Assembly election results. It will get another big push from the (Ayodhya) Ram Mandir (inauguration) in January. Against this, the INDIA grouping appears scattered as of now,” the observer said.