Thaw in Mamata Banerjee's relations with Centre likely linked to 2021 Bengal polls, fate of ex-Kolkata Police chief
Mamata Banerjee seems to have taken a leaf out of the book of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was the first of Modi's fierce opponents in power in any state to embark on a course correction of his relationship with the Centre
A few months ago, a picture of Mamata Banerjee presenting bouquets to both Narendra Modi and Amit Shah would have been unimaginable
She seems to have taken a leaf out of the book of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was the first of Modi's fierce opponents in power in any state to embark on a course correction of his relationship with the Centre
His policy to align the Delhi government's interests with those of the Centre became most evident in his vocal and prompt support on crucial decisions taken by the Centre, such as the abrogation of Article 370
Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman of the 19th Century, once said that nothing succeeds like success, and nothing fails like failure. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee's latest visit to New Delhi, to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah has to be viewed in this context.
The most vitriolic of all of Modi's political opponents, Mamata, didn't relent on her hard-hitting criticism of the BJP and the prime minister even after he scored a thumping victory for a second term at the Centre. A few months ago, a picture of her presenting bouquets to both Modi and Shah would have been unimaginable. But now, the U-turn appears to have taken place.
Mamata, who had declined an invitation to attend Modi's swearing-in ceremony after the BJP's Lok Sabha victory as a mark of protest, did not attend any meeting called by the Centre for chief ministers — whether they were convened by the prime minister, home minister, NITI Aayog or any other arm of the government — after Modi 2.0 began its term. During the Lok Sabha election, the feud between Modi and Mamata was at its peak. From demonetisation in 2016 to the latest NRC issue, and the abrogation of Article 370 in between — Mamata had fiercely criticised and opposed almost every decision by the Modi government.
When Modi said in an interview that "Mamata Didi still sends me one or two kurtas every year that she picks herself", she took offence and claimed she would feed the prime minister stones instead of sweets. Such was the political animosity. Compare that to Wednesday evening, when she said she had a "good meeting" with Modi. What could be the reason for the firebrand Mamata to mend her relations with the Centre?
She seems to have taken a leaf out of the book of Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who was the first of Modi's fierce opponents in power in any state to embark on a course correction of his relationship with the Centre. Enjoying great camaraderie with Mamata and bonding with her well on the anti-Modi plank, Kejriwal perhaps made a few political calculations that would have won approval from Chanakya, and changed the song he was singing.
He first went silent on his criticism of Modi. His policy to align the Delhi government's interests with those of the Centre became most evident in his vocal and prompt support on crucial decisions taken by the Centre, such as the abrogation of Article 370. He was one of the first of those to come out in support of the landmark decision in August by tweeting, "We support the government on its decisions on J&K. We hope this will bring peace and development in the state."
After braving it out alone in the Modi versus the rest political axis that has taken shape in the country, Mamata too seems to have seen the wisdom of at least maintaining cordial relations with the Centre, in the larger interests of her state. Mamata has probably realised that burning bridges with the Centre may prove disadvantageous for her, as Bengal would be deprived of its share of funds from the Modi government. After all, there's a whopping Rs 13,500 crore at stake that the Centre has to give to West Bengal. This was one of the key aspects of her discussion with the prime minister on Wednesday evening.
The political issues over which Mamata has differed with the Centre and the BJP for a long time — most thorny of which is the NRC in Assam and its possible implementation in West Bengal — may not be sorted just yet. But, by visiting Delhi and paying Modi and Shah a visit, Mamata has reopened doors for reconciliation that she had herself firmly shut.
Before the Lok Sabha polls this year, the trio in the Opposition bloc — Mamata Banerjee, former Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Kejriwal — were fierce critics of Modi and spared no opportunity to launch scathing attacks on the prime minister and his party. Their course correction has a lot to do with the mood of the nation. It has become very clear that Indians, by and large, are behind Modi's policies that concern national integrity and security. It's well-known that Balakot strikes had weighed heavy on the minds of the voters in the Lok Sabha election despite several other areas of concern bothering the electorate, including a slowing economy.
Of the trio, Naidu realised the mood of the nation quite late, after losing the Assembly election in Andhra Pradesh. The party had won only three Lok Sabha seats in 2019 against 11 in 2014. Pushed to a corner, an NDA ally-turned-critic, Naidu had tweeted after the abrogation of Article 370, "Telugu Desam Party supports the Union Government as it seeks to repeal Article 370. I pray for the peace and prosperity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir."
Probably eyeing the Assembly election in the state in 2021 and sensing the rise of the BJP-RSS at the grassroots, the Bengal chief minister may have also decided to change her strategy.
Moreover, her meetings with Modi and Shah come at a time when the CBI is on the lookout for former Kolkata Police commissioner Rajeev Kumar — who is said to be close to Mamata and for whom she had staged a dharna on the street — in a case related to the Saradha scam.
Yogi Adityanath has done well as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and it is a matter of shame if the BJP cannot capitalise on that
Banerjee is likely to visit the national capital on 22 November and return to Kolkata on 25 November, according to sources
The West Bengal chief minister is likely to press for her long-standing demand to clear dues of the state and raise objection to the Centre's decision to increase the jurisdiction of the BSF