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From ‘Danga Babu’ to yellow flowers: How Mamata changed in 15 months?

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New Delhi, Sep 19 : West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, a quintessential rebel and a known Modi baiter, was in Delhi to meet someone who she doesn’t see eye to eye with – Narendra Modi. But as she met the Prime Minister on Wednesday to urge changing her state’s name from West Bengal to Bangla, and then met Amit Shah on Thursday to express ‘concern’ over NRC, her demeanour softened much.

Her stern opposition to “inhuman and autocratic” National Register for Citizens (NRC) turned into a concern and the rebellious defiance turned into submission. Many, including the opposition, blame it on the CBI’s hyper enthusiasm to track down Rajeev Kumar, the former Kolkata Police Commissioner, in the Saradha chit fund scam. It is believed Kumar knows way too much for Mamata to sit on a dharna in Kolkata for Kumar, this February when CBI sleuths went to question him. Bengal’s Congress President Somen Mitra accused her of trying to find an “escape route” for her trusted aide.

While Mamata Banerjee has rubbished speculation about the intention of her meeting, it’s a fact that she met the Prime Minister after a long spell of 15 months. And what transpired between the two meetings in May, 2018 and September, 2019 was a chief minister of a state becoming the darling of opposition for her outspoken and often vitriolic charge at PM Modi to a softened political leader who is keen on a successful centre-state relation.

Here’s a look back at the Mamata that was but no longer is.

  • She may have brought multiple packets of ‘sandesh’ (a Bengali variety of sweet) from well-known Kolkata confectionery for Modi on Wednesday, but not long ago she wanted to “break the Prime Minister’s teeth”. In April this year, she had threatened, “Narendra Modi is coming to Bengal regularly to seek votes. But the people will give him ‘rosogollas’ made of clay with fillings of gravel; his teeth will break if he tries to take a bite”.
  • Addressing a public rally in Asansol, the constituency of BJP leader Babul Supriyo, during the 2019 election campaigning, she hit out at “laddoo” to target Modi. “They don’t have minimum courtesy. Whoever ate Delhi’s laddoo has regretted it. In 2014, they got two seats and this time they will get a big rosogolla. They will get a big zero,” said she.
  • She has jailed people for chanting “Jai Shri Ram” in Bengal. Her animated verbal spats with BJP cadres who chanted the slogan became a talk of the nation. She, in fact, once instructed the police to arrest those who shouted “Jai Shri Ram” as her car passed. Her animosity towards the phrase came from the perception that ‘Ram’ is synonymous with the BJP.
  • She even hit out at Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party for “using” Lord Ram for election. In a sharp jibe, she had alleged in May this year, “…look at Modi Babu. Whenever there is an election, they make Lord Ram an agent and seek votes. The Mohant of Kapil Muni Ashram at Gangasagar first told me this.”
  • The animosity reached such a bitter proportion, she took to Twitter to announce that she would skip the oath-taking ceremony of PM Modi for his second time in power. The Bengal CM, high on brazenness had tweeted: “So I am sorry, Narendra Modi ji, this has compelled me not to attend the ceremony. The ceremony is an august occasion to celebrate democracy, not one that should be devalued by any political party which uses it as an opportunity to scoreApolitical points. Please excuse me”. Her decision was based on claims by the BJP that 54 of its party workers were murdered in political violence in Bengal.

This is a small list of utterances by Mamata Banerjee, the face of anti-Modi brigade.

She had disallowed Amit Shah’s chopper to land at pre-designated helipad, she had declined Yogi Adityanath’s helicopter to land at all in Purulia, forcing the Uttar Pradesh CM to reach the rally ground by car, from Jhharkahnd.

The Tripura Chief Minister’s office had officially raised objections with the Mamata administration for not enabling security of Biplab Deb, who was slated to campaign for BJP in West Bengal. She scuttled BJP’s rath yatra and fought a long legal battle up to the Supreme Court.

On May 2018, during the convocation ceremony for Visva-Bharati University in Shantiniketan, Modi and Mamata had met. The next meeting took place this Wednesday. The long period in between was full with shrill barbs and Rafale allegations from Mamata’s end. She had even called Modi a “master of corruption”.

Banerjee had skipped all meetings chaired by the Prime Minister. It went to a point of no return when she had refused to talk to the Prime Minister over the phone when the PMO tried to call her in the wake of Cyclone Fani, earlier this year.

But, on Wednesday as a smiling Mamata entered 7 Lok Kalyan Marg with a bouquet of yellow flowers, a colour of friendship, it seemed a different avatar of her that even she hadn’t dreamt of making a comeback for Modi. The body language was casual, the tension was absent, at least going by the optics.

Did Rajeev Kumar, her trusted cop, now untraceable, who the CBI’s 14-member crack team is looking for, facilitate this ‘Mission Impossible’? Be as it may, the ‘Danga Babu’ (‘Riot Man’), as Mamata often refers to Modi, has turned “Prime Minister” for her.

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BJP treads cautious, unleash ‘3 musketeers’ to check out Pilot’s claim

With Gehlot releasing photos, flashing victory sign and his camp claiming there were 107 MLAs, BJP thinks its caution paid off.

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Sachin Pilot

As Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot on Monday flexed muscles during the Congress Legislature Party meeting, throwing the show open to media claiming around 100 MLAs still in his fold, sources in the Bharatiya Janata Party claimed, they too took Sachin Pilot’s assertion of “more than 30 MLAs” support” with a pinch of salt.

This is why no top BJP leaders met Pilot and instead deputed three BJP intermediaries to “keep a close watch” on the developments. Sources say, the three leaders are BJP General Secretary Bhupender Yadav, Pilots”s former colleague Jyotiraditya Scindia and BJP MP Om Mathur.

While BJP officially maintains that there has been no meeting between BJP leaders and Pilot and sources in BJP claim nor any have been scheduled, Yadav”s role is believed to keep BJP top brass “apprised” of the “developing situation”.

The choice of Yadav may surprise some, given he is incharge of Bihar and Gujarat. However, he hails from the desert state and knows the state”s politics very well.

The second choice was obvious — Jyotiraditya Scindia. While there has been no official confirmation of a meeting between him and Pilot, sources confirmed to IANS that the two had a detailed telephone conversation on Sunday, even as the sulking Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister remained “incommunicado” for the best part of the day to his party colleagues.

Sources who could not confirm what the two leaders — Pilot and Scindia — spoke about, added, “The two have worked together for years. But ever since Scindia joined the BJP along with his supporters, both Pilot and Scindia have been in regular telephonic contact.”

Late on Sunday, after they spoke over phone, Pilot asserted that he will skip Sunday morning”s legislature party meeting and openly announced that the Ashok Gehlot-led government in the state has been reduced to a minority government.

The third BJP leader who was entrusted with the job of “getting a sense” of things in the Gehlot-Pilot face-off, was BJP”s National Vice President and Rajya Sabha MP from Rajasthan — Om Mathur. Sources indicate that Pilot and Mathur met on Sunday. However, there has been no official confirmation of the same.

Mathur, who on Sunday attacked Congress leader Kapil Sibal saying it”s natural for anyone to look for greener pastures, without naming Pilot, tried to distance BJP from the Rajasthan political crisis on Monday morning. Mathur said: “It is unfair for the Congress party to blame its internal problems on the BJP. The Congress should rather keep its house in order.”

Senior BJP sources say, the party top brass were skeptical of the claim of more than 30 MLAs supporting Pilot. In fact, the job of the three BJP leaders was to get a sense of the authenticity of the claim. If BJP sources are to be believed, the party top brass decided against meeting Pilot unless convinced that he indeed has the numbers on his side.

With Gehlot releasing photos, flashing victory sign and his camp claiming there were 107 MLAs, BJP thinks its caution paid off.

With just 18 MLAs staying off the CLP meeting, Congress seems to have decided not to negotiate any further while BJP distanced itself from the political row. Reports of Priyanka Gandhi pitching in to find a middle path was also reported. With Pilot still dodging camera and microphones, the picture is yet to become clear.

(Anindya Banerjee can be contacted at [email protected])

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GenNext leaders leaving party worrying sign for Congress

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PILOT and SCINDIA

New Delhi, July 13 : After Jyotiraditya Scindia, Sachin Pilot may be the next high-profile leader to leave the Congress unceremoniously at a time when the party is grappling to save its image and the government in Rajasthan, even as Congress observer Randeep Surjewala made a high-pitch appeal to Pilot to return to the party fold.

According to sources, Congress leaders have been asked to go soft on Pilot as the party wants to retain him.

Former Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam said, “The party doesn”t suffer if a person leaves, but if one by one everybody starts to leave, who will remain in the party? The prime responsibility of the party leadership is to resolve the differences between the leaders.”

Not just Scindia, who led a successful revolt against Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh in Madhya Pradesh by jumping ship to the BJP, now Pilot too seems to be mounting pressure on Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

Before Pilot, former Haryana Pradesh Congress chief Ashok Tanwar had announced his resignation from the party in October last year after being denied ticket in the Assembly polls. He even protested against the party at 10, Janpath but his grievances were not heard.

Tanwar, who was the party President in Haryana, was removed after pressure from former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda. Talking on the current crisis in the party, Tanwar said senior leaders don”t want young leaders to grow and sabotage their endeavours.

Tanwar, who is yet to join any party, said his political journey is on and he will take a decision at an appropriate time.

Scindia”s revolt led to the fall of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh. After being sidelined by Kamal Nath and Digvijaya Singh and with the party high command not paying heed to his demands, Scindia joined hands with the BJP and is now an elected Rajya Sabha MP of the party. Chances are that he may soon be inducted into the Union Cabinet.

What”s common between Tanwar, Scindia and Pilot is that they have all been close to Rahul Gandhi. While Tanwar and Pilot were made state Presidents, the latter lost the CM”s race against Gehlot. Similarly, Scindia lost the race for the Chief Minister”s post to Kamal Nath.

There are worrying signs in the Congress, especially after former Union Minister Kapil Sibal said that he was worried for the party.

While senior party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi hoped that an amicable solution will be reached soon, nothing of that sort has happened so far. Pilot seems to be adamant and the trigger for his revolt seems to have come after the SOG sent a notice to Pilot in a sedition case.

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Rajasthan crisis: The story of a nose-diving Pilot and soaring Gehlot!

Pilot stood like a wall between Gehlot and his men and hence, it was expected that he will be shunted out as Rajasthan PCC chief.

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PILOT and SCINDIA

Jaipur, July 12 : The greed of Ashok Gehlot to keep his power intact and the hunger of Sachin Pilot to stay strong in the larger picture is the reason for the tussle which triggered the Congress crisis in Rajasthan.

Since the Congress party formed its government in Rajasthan, there were two power circles created, one being led by Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and other by Sachin Pilot.

While Congress stands at 101, the BJP and its alliance with RLD had 75 MLAs. Looking at the thin strength, Gehlot played his magic and brought 13 independents under his fold. Later, 6 BSP MLAs merged with Congress.

Surprisingly, Pilot, despite being PCC chief, was kept out and was informed about the developments the next day via the media. This was just the beginning. The files of his department (PWD) were sent back by Finance (under Gehlot) quoting reasons for fund crisis.

Even the ministers of his camp were facing challenges and were receiving back files from bureaucrats quoting “Please Discuss”.

During the Covid crisis, Gehlot was busy calling video conferences with health and other departments, however, Pilot was never part of the meetings.

Pilot camp sources said that the Deputy CM wanted the entire Congress team on ground, however, Gehlot was more interested in making his larger picture and hence centralised the operations during corona.

Even on his father Rajesh Pilot”s death anniversary on June 11, when Pilot and team was about to go to Dausa to pay floral tributes, the police officials called Pilot and asked him to stay away from visiting Dausa as section 144 was imposed in the town in the wake of covid-19.

“They were busy holding meetings, camping in Marriott to prevent MLA poaching, but Pilot was intentionally stopped from visiting Dausa as it could have been his show of strength as many MLAs wanted to visit there,” said an MLA from Pilot”s team. Even the home department is looked after by Gehlot.

Further, the challenge started appearing grave when Pilot wanted Congress grassroots workers to get tickets for ensuing panchayat and corporation polls while Gehlot wanted to favour his closest. Also for political appointments, the CM wanted the BSP and independent MLAs to get plum posts while Pilot wanted them to be kept for Congress workers.

Pilot stood like a wall between Gehlot and his men and hence, it was expected that he will be shunted out as Rajasthan PCC chief.

“However, Pilot wanted to continue his term as PCC chief but was not interested in reading files as minister. The deadlock continued and when he was defamed many times by Gehlot camp in one or the other way, he then decided to bring in the high command into the picture and show his strength and that”s why this is happening now,” said a source.

It”s more like a door-die situation for Pilot but hopefully the Congress high command wakes up from its slumber said a PCC worker who told IANS that the party seems to be crumbling in the state with the deadlock. “We look dead and if things don”t improve, our party will be declared dead.”

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