Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi had accepted her invitation to inaugurate Bengal’s business summit in April, stressing the need for the Centre and the state government to work together despite political differences.
The Trinamul Congress chief also sought to justify her foray into national politics, saying she was not out to “break” any political party and was offering help to other regional forces to take on the BJP. She mentioned Uttar Pradesh where polls are due next year.
A perception has gained ground that Trinamul’s thrust in states where the Congress is the principal challenger to the BJP could end up strengthening Modi and the BJP.
On the third day of her visit to Delhi, Mamata met the Prime Minister and raised several issues relating to Bengal, including a demand for withdrawal of the order extending the jurisdiction and powers of the Border Security Force.
“I raised another issue, relating to Centre-state relations in a federal structure. I told (the Prime Minister) that political differences would remain. Your party’s ideology is different from ours. But it should not impact Centre-state relations,” the Bengal chief minister said, briefing reporters after meeting Modi.
“The Centre will develop only if the states develop. For this, I invited the PM to inaugurate the BBGBS (Biswa Bangla Global Business Summit) in Calcutta in April,” Mamata said.
Asked about the Prime Minister’s response, she said: “The PM has accepted my invitation and agreed to inaugurate.”
Mamata said the business meet would take place on April 20 and 21 and went on to elaborate how synergy between the Centre and the states was necessary during the pandemic to ensure wider participation at the business summit, which would give a much-needed impetus to industry and generate more jobs.
Mamata appeared to be striving to pre-empt any political motives being attributed to her meeting with Modi, with whom she had had an acrimonious battle during the Bengal elections earlier this year.
She said the business summit couldn’t take place in the past two years because of Covid and hence the need had arisen for the Centre and the state to join hands and make the upcoming edition a success.
Asked about the possibility of a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Mamata said she had no such plans for this trip and had not sought an appointment.
“I have not sought time from anybody. I only sought time from the PM to raise issues concerning my state,” Mamata said.
The Trinamul chief said she had not asked to meet Sonia because she knew the Congress leadership was busy with the Punjab polls. “Let them (the Congress) work for their party,” she said.
When reporters kept asking her repeatedly about meeting Sonia, stressing that she had met the Congress president and Rahul Gandhi during her earlier visit to Delhi in July, Mamata appeared to lose her cool at one point. “Is there a constitutional provision to meet everyone? I know they are busy with the Punjab polls,” she replied.
Mamata was also asked about Trinamul’s expansion efforts outside Bengal, against the backdrop of some present and former Congress leaders joining her party.
Mamata stressed that she was not breaking other parties.
“We are not breaking any party. If individual leaders want to join us and they feel Trinamul is fighting for the country, they are welcome,” she said, underlining that her party had opened units in Tripura, Goa, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi.
The Trinamul chief said she was ready to extend support to regional parties fighting the BJP. Mamata said she could campaign in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh if invited by Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party.
“Trinamul will not fight everywhere. Let regional parties fight. If Trinamul can help defeat the BJP in UP, we will go. If Akhilesh wants our help, we will give,” Mamata said.
She said she would travel to Mumbai in November-end to meet Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar.
On Tuesday, former Congress leader and Rahul aide Ashok Tanwar, a Dalit leader from Haryana, ex-Congress leader Kirti Azad and sacked JDU politician and one-time Nitish Kumar confidant Pavan Varma had joined Trinamul in Mamata’s presence.
Earlier, Congress leaders Sushmita Dev (Assam) and Luizinho Faleiro (Goa) had switched to Trinamul, triggering tensions between the two parties because of a perception that Mamata was looking to emerge as a potential challenger to the BJP at the national level at the cost of the Congress.
During her meeting with the Prime Minister, Mamata also lodged a protest against the Centre’s move to widen the jurisdiction of the BSF and said it was an infringement on the state’s powers. She demanded that the notification be withdrawn.
“We love the BSF but under the federal structure, law and order is a state subject and should not be tinkered with,” Mamata said.
Modi heard the chief minister out patiently but didn’t give any assurances, Mamata said.
Ahead of Mamata’s meeting with Modi, BJP Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy met her.
Later, Swamy, who has been persistently attacking the BJP leadership and government, said he was not joining Trinamul but was with Mamata.
“Of all the politicians I have met or worked with, Mamata Banerjee ranks with J.P., Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi, Chandrashekhar and P.V. Narasimha Rao who meant what they said and said what they meant. In Indian politics that is a rare quality,” Swamy tweeted.