(From left) Mamata Banerjee with Nitish Kumar at the swearing-in; Lalu Prasad, Akhilesh Yadav
Meghdeep bhattacharyya, TT, Calcutta, May 27: Mamata Banerjee kept the “federal front” pot simmering today by drawing to her swearing-in heavyweight regional leaders but she did not take an overtly anti-BJP stand with the Lok Sabha polls still three years away.
The Red Road ceremony assumed pan-India political significance with the likes of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, DMK leader Kanimozhi and Telugu Desam Party leader Thota Narasimham in attendance.
Although Mamata posed for photographs with the regional satraps and Trinamul leaders and flashed the victory sign at the end of the swearing-in, she seemed to downplay the significance of the gathering at a news conference hours later.
“We are so happy that all of them came here to attend this historic event. We will remember this…. It was like a political get-together,” Mamata said at Nabanna.
When some journalists pointed out that none from the Congress attended the event, the chief minister said she was happy with whoever responded to her invitation.
The invitation list and Mamata’s plan to visit Delhi every two months had made clear her national ambitions. Asked about it today, she avoided a direct reply. “It’s always good to meet leaders of other states and catch up with them over tea. The tea won’t be diabetic though. There will be sugar, there will be milk…. There will be exchange of views and ideas,” she said at the news conference.
On her views on the prospect of a federal front taking shape, she said: “The federal front is a good idea. I will try my best to help it, but I don’t want anything for myself.”
(From left) Farooq Abdullah, Kanimozhi and Arvind Kejriwal at the event. Pictures by Bishwarup Dutta
Trinamul sources said Mamata was unwilling to unnecessarily go on the offensive against the Centre and the BJP at the beginning of her second term as chief minister.
Union finance minister Arun Jaitley, civil aviation minister P.A. Gajapati Raju and junior Union urban development minister Babul Supriyo were present at today’s swearing-in.
Jaitley later emphasised that governments could not be opposed to each other, irrespective of political differences.
The Trinamul sources said Mamata was focusing on Delhi after the thumping mandate in the Assembly elections and wanted to make use of the three years ahead of the Lok Sabha polls to stitch together an alliance of non-BJP parties. They said that at the same time, the chief minister was aware that she needed the Centre’s support to run the government in Bengal.
“At the moment, Nitish seems to be the clear choice to lead a possible federal front because he is the first among equals. She (Mamata) is not willing to challenge this and she also does not want to pick up a needless fight with the BJP, at least as of now. She would need the help of the Centre to run the state and so there is no point spoiling the relationship now,” a senior Trinamul leader said.
Asked who could head the federal front if such an axis emerged, Farooq indicated that Mamata would be one of the many leaders in the set-up.
“There are several of them. Mamataji is one of them,” the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister said.
The Trinamul sources said Mamata did not want to take the lead in floating such a front at a time she was looking at 56 MPs – 34 in the Lok Sabha, 12 in the Rajya Sabha and at least 10 more Rajya Sabha berths in the next couple of years.
Among the invitees, Farooq and Lalu Prasad did not shy away from making pro-front noises.
“There is every possibility. We will sit together and discuss what is best for the nation,” Farooq said.
Lalu Prasad attacked the BJP and the Sangh parivar for allegedly dividing the country and championed the need for “like-minded” parties to join forces. “Like-minded secular forces will sit together and discuss how to overthrow them (the BJP and the Sangh parivar),” he said, before adding that Congress should also be flexible in selecting alliance partners.
The BJP scoffed at the possibility of a front. “The so-called federal front is a tried, tested and failed idea,” Jaitley said in a news conference in the afternoon. “For such a front to succeed, there has to be a strong anchor with a national presence and mass support base outside regional pockets,” he added.