West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee may be maintaining a studied silence on Narendra Modi, the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, but she is not inclined to support him either before or after the polls. The Trinamool Congress chief is said to be wary of the fact that the population of Muslims went up to 30 per cent in the last census, so she can ill-afford to take any steps that would alienate them.
“Muslims constitute 30 per cent of the state’s population and we cannot afford to take any false step,” a senior party MP told The Indian Expres. “Whatever verdict the court may have given, Muslims remain quite sensitive about Modi. More than the Lok Sabha elections, what matters to us is the assembly elections in 2016. Any kind of association with a Modi government at the Centre will work against the TMC, especially when both the Left parties and the Congress are aggressively wooing Muslims.”
Addressing a rally in Kolkata last week, Modi had sought to reach out to Mamata, attacking the Left parties and the Congress but taking a soft line on the Trinamool government. “It will be a win-win situation for you with me at the Centre, Mamata Banerjee in the state and Pranab da to supervise us,” Modi had said in Kolkata.
Trinamool leaders are, however, dismissive of Modi’s apparent olive branch. While Mamata hasn’t had any formal intra-party discussions on the issue of an alliance at the national level, party leaders believe that her silence is not because of any lack of clarity on the party’s stance vis-a-vis Modi but because of the ambiguity about the emerging political alignments and the possibilities they offer.
“Right now, the Left parties are leading the initiative towards the formation of a third front and so, naturally, we cannot be a part of it. But, that does not mean that we are not in the game,” said another Trinamool functionary. “After all, whether the Left or someone else would be the driving force in the next government would depend on the number of seats these parties get. It’s therefore inconsequential to talk about the Trinamool Congress’ s inclusion or exclusion from the so-called third front.”
Asked whether Mamata’s silence could also be guided by the possibility of a non-Modi-led BJP government at the Centre, party sources pointed out that she “might not be” averse to supporting a formation led by “someone with a liberal image”. “But we are just second-guessing. We have not discussed any such thing in the party forum yet,” said a TMC leader. Mamata could be weighing her options after ther elections but party leaders do not see her supporting a Modi-led government.
The Trinamool, in the meantime, has been reaching out to regional parties that are not part of the Left-led initiative. Mamata recently sent an emissary to Ranchi to meet Jharkhand Vikas Morcha (Prajatantrik) chief Babulal Marandi to explore the possibility of some pre-poll understanding. TDP chief Chandrababu Naidu called on her last week but the discussions are said to have been centred around the Telangana issue. Although the TDP chief is eager to go with Modi, he, like Mamata, has not lost sight of the various other possibilities that the future holds.