Ever since the exit polls predicted that Trinamool Congress will regain power, party supremo and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee hasn’t been seen in the public. The decision, following what she has described as the “most bitter” political campaign, is being described as deliberate and party leaders explained that the instruction to them is clear: “Didi will speak after the results, so will we.”
In the nearly two-month-long period of canvassing that ended on May 3, Mamata led a whirlwind campaign tour stretching over 200 constituencies. “I am the candidate in every constituency,” she had declared ahead of polling. On the last day of the campaign she reiterated: “Vote for me, we will work for you.” But in the two weeks that followed, many within her party admitted that Mamata seemed less confident. “She had initially decided to leave Cooch Behar on May 3 and return to Kolkata for the last phase of polling on May 5. It had been a very taxing month, physically and emotionally for Didi. But she later decided to stay on for two more days in north Bengal,” said a close aide to Mamata.
It wasn’t until Mamata returned to Kolkata that her party members realised that something was amiss. Mamata’s residence at Harish Chatterjee street — usually a beehive of activity — remained strangely silent. The CM, sources said, issued instructions to ensure that she got some time away from the media glare and the party. Meanwhile, there was “news” in Kolkata about Mamata planning to visit Puri’s Jagannath Temple, which led Opposition to claim that she was seeking “divine intervention” ahead of the election results.
On May 10, a close aide, who didn’t wish to be identified, reportedly told Mamata that her continued absence from the public eye, and her “uncharacteristic” inaccessibility were leading to fall in morale within the party. The trip to Puri was “cancelled” and a day later, Mamata visited Nabanna, where she spent two hours and met chief secretary Basudeb Banerjee and other key officials. Most significantly, she also scheduled a high-power committee meeting for the day after results. “The indication she gave us was clear. She didn’t tell us that the government would meet on May 20. She told us that she would meet us,” said a senior government official.
Discussion within the party about Mamata’s behaviour, inevitably gravitates towards a rally at South-24 Parganas, where she said, “I have never been through such an election before. So much stress, so much mud-slinging, so much pressure.” Senior party leaders explained that the bitterness was compounded as a result of the Narada sting and the unlikely Left-Congress alliance. Mamata herself added, “While the campaign was going on, messages were forwarded with fake exit poll results. They all showed TMC losing, but they had legitimate logos. Who sent these? Who will investigate these? Things like this have never happened in West Bengal before.”
Although the trip to Puri had been cancelled, the daitapati (chief servitor) of the Jagannath Temple, with whom Mamata has had a long association, visited the CM in Kolkata at her residence, said sources. He had also conducted a puja at her residence, ahead of campaigning, added the source.
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Now, when all expected Mamata to comment on the exit poll results, she has stayed resolutely silent and once again disappeared from the public eye. On being asked about her silence, senior party leaders, members of the cabinet and her close aides concurred: “Wait for the 19th. It’s a few more hours. She’ll talk then.”