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Didi and Modi: From Friends to Foes in 15 Years

Kolkata: In the din created by consecutive arrests of two Trinamool Congress MPs by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and a furious Mamata Banerjee’s demand for the arrest of Narendra Modi, many have forgotten that Mamata was one of the very few political leaders in India, who had congratulated Modi after his victory in Gujarat assembly elections following the communal riots.

This correspondent, then almost a cub reporter and his senses still not immune to the darker aspects of political ambitions, had asked Mamata why she had chosen to send Modi a bunch of roses when almost the entire political class was condemning him for the Gujarat riots.

“I want to remove the CPI (M) from power in West Bengal and to do that, I will not hesitate to join hands even with the devil,” she had said in a steely voice that had silenced everyone present in the room.

But that was more than two decades ago. She has now ascended the throne in Bengal and has “reduced the CPI (M) to the footnotes of history,” as her senior leaders say. To do it, she “joined hands with the devil,” not once but repeatedly.

Both the BJP and the Congress are devils – she has said many times in her close circles and she has never dithered to embrace them and then dump them again and again in her journey to power.
Now that her power is secured in West Bengal, Mamata is eager to play a central role in national politics.

Will she join hands with the Congress? Well, she already has.
Will she dump the Congress and make friends with the BJP in future? “In politics, no one can predict the future. For the present, BJP is our main enemy and Didi is playing a central role in uniting the entire Opposition against Modi. Just wait and watch,” is how a senior minister in her Cabinet explained the unfolding political drama.

The Love-Hate Journey to Power

In her journey to power, Mamata made her first big and somewhat risky step forward by quitting the Congress, splitting the party in West Bengal and forming the Trinamool Congress in 1997. This might not have happened had P.V. Narasimha Rao agreed to make her the Congress chief in Bengal, which she was demanding for at least two years.

Always on good terms with both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani, Mamata joined the BJP-led NDA and became the first woman Railways minister. When the Opposition criticised that she was acting more like a Railways Minister of West Bengal, she simply ignored them and introduced new trains and projects for her state. Her target was the 2001 assembly polls.

During those days, the BJP was nothing more than a fringe organisation in the state. So, as soon as the Tehelka scam erupted, she dumped the BJP, joined hands with the Congress again and fought the assembly polls. It turned out to be one of her worst performances.

So Mamata lost no time in warming up to the BJP leaders again – particularly Advani and some other senior leaders, who are now in the Modi cabinet. In 2004, she went back to NDA and became the coal and mines minister.

But her close associates – some inside Trinamool and others, interestingly, from some strongly anti-CPI(M) fringe Left organisations – were trying to convince her for quite some time, that unless she distanced herself from the BJP, the nearly 28 per cent minority votes in Bengal would not come to her kitty and she would never come even close to power. She realised this the hard way.

In 2005 she lost the prestigious Kolkata Municipal Corporation election and in 2006 she got only 35 of the 294 seats in the assembly polls.

At this point, Mamata decided to change course and took full advantage of the changing political situation in the state.

During her “anti-land acquisition movement”, first in Singur and then in Nandigram, her party sent a clear message that only the land belonging to the Muslim community was being acquired by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government. Mamata and not the Left was the new messiah of the minorities. The huge success of the two struggles finally made her the chief minister of West Bengal.

In the first five years in power, the Trinamool’s primary objective was to reduce both the Left and the Congress to political non-entities. Having successfully done that she is now eyeing Delhi.

Demonitistion and the consequent coming together of the Opposition present her with a unique opportunity.

Arrest of her two MPs Tapas Paul and Sudip Bandyopadhyay has created a public perception that she is being targeted by the BJP because she is the most vociferous voice against demonetisation, Trinamool leaders say insisting that this will only catapult her to the centre stage of national politics.

“The arrests have come as a boon in disguise,” a senior Trinamool leader said, chuckling, over phone late on Tuesday night.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Kolkata)