Having kept largely to herself since voting ended in West Bengal, incumbent Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has shut out even top Trinamool Congress leaders ahead of counting and refused an audience to a number of MLAs and ministers who had been trying to meet her over the past two days.
“No audience. No instructions on what to do after the results are out on Thursday,” one of these leaders said Wednesday. “Didi will meet us only after the results.”
Outside Mamata’s house on Harish Chatterjee Street, security personnel stopped journalists: “No one is allowed.” The party office in the same building was deserted.
“Suddenly, the familiar bustle outside Mamata’s house-cum-office is missing,” said one Trinamool functionary. “The adda sessions with intervals of muri, vegetable chops and rounds and rounds of tea in tiny clay pots outside Didi’s house are over. Yes, the party is indeed over.”
Several leaders are worried about the implications of a silence that has continued even after exit polls projected a Trinamool Congress victory. Some are speculating whether it means an overhaul is on the way.
“Didi has sent out a clear message that there will be a churning within the party once the results are out. Since May 3, when she last addressed a campaign meeting, she has indicated to her close aides that she has been introspecting closely, by herself.”
Mamata is reportedly upset with party colleagues who she feels have let her down, with the victory when it comes predicted to be close. Leaders close to her said that Mamata, in fact, has indicated she would be happier with a “comfortable” victory than with a landslide one. “Didi wants a natural purge through the poll results. She would not mind if non-performing MLAs are defeated,” said a close aide. An internal Trinamool assessment has given the party between 175 and 185 seats out of 294, the aide said.
The fact that Mamata had something on her mind dawned on Trinamool Congress leaders only after she returned to Kolkata from North Bengal, when both the house and the party office remained uncharacteristically silent.
Word got out that she was planning to visit Puri’s Jagannath Temple, one of her favourite spiritual spots. On May 10, a close aide reportedly told her that her uncharacteristic inaccessibility was causing morale to fall within the party. Mamata emerged briefly in public by visiting the state secretariat. “She didn’t tell us that the government would meet on the May 20. She told us that she would meet us,” said a government official.
The trip to Puri too was cancelled. Instead, the daitapati of the temple of the chief servitor of the Jagannath Temple, with whom Mamata has had a long association, visited her at her Kolkata home, a source said. He had also conducted a puja at the house ahead of campaigning, the source added.
For the party, it is chief whip Sovandev Chattopadhyay who, as a Brahmin purohit, usually conducts all pujas, Chattopadhyay said. He has performed a puja at party headquarters praying to “Maa” for the well-being of the party. For himself as a candidate — from Rash Behari, next door to Mamata’s Bhabanipur — Sovandev has offered two pujas at Kalighat temple. “I am 100 per cent confident of my victory. Still, pujas to Maa are a must, win or lose,” he said.
About Mamata, Sovandeb said, “Victory is knocking at our door, yet there is not a word on celebration from Didi. We too are keeping it low-key until she gives us instructions. We have not been able to meet her in the past few days.”
In North Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress is traditionally weak, some leaders admit they are likely to suffer against the Congress-Left jot and another combine — BJP-Gorkha Janamukti Morcha and a large faction of adivasis.
“No one can stop us from coming to power for a second term,” said Gautam Deb, Trinamool minister and in-charge of North Bengal Development Board, “but the party’s fortunes may be mixed in North Bengal. The fight for Siliguri, for instance, is an intense one between Bhaichung Bhutia and Asok Bhattacharya of the CPM. So is the fight for Kalimpong, where Harka Bahadur Chhetri has broken away from the GJM to fight together with the Trinamool Congress. These seats can swing either way; no one can predict these results.”
What Deb did predict was good prospects for the BJP in Madarihat and Kalchini in Jalpaiguri, and Baishnabnagar in Malda.