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Is Mamata Banerjee's Meeting With Uddhav Thackeray Another Marriage of Convenience?

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray with West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

The meeting between Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray has set off speculation in political circles, but the two parties don’t have much in common.

Kolkata: For most news observers, it was a political coup of sorts.

A meeting that lasted for nearly three hours at a five-star property in south Mumbai’s Nariman Point, where Trinamool Congress supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had set up camp since October 31, hogged the attention of national media more than any of the meeting that the leader had attended over the past two days in her efforts to attract investments for Bengal.

That’s because Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray spent that much time discussing politics, policies and administrative collaboration with Mamata Banerjee and came out calling the meet “fruitful”. The Sena chief was accompanied by his son, Aditya Thackeray.

The meeting has already fuelled speculation in political circles. Mamata’s agenda of forging an anti-BJP front ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is well-known. She had reiterated her ambition in the extended core committee meeting held in Kolkata on October 25.

“I am not interested in the Prime Minister’s chair or in even leading the Opposition. My goal is to see the Modi government out of power. For that, I am ready to play the role that squirrels played in helping Lord Ram build the bridge to Lanka,” she had said.

What’s interesting is the extent to which Mamata Banerjee is willing to travel to get the job done.

Working on the principle of ‘enemy’s enemy is friend’, Mamata has already extended an olive branch to opposition parties across the country for the anti-BJP front, which is nowhere close to seeing the light of the day. One can, in this context, recall Mamata sharing the dais with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav at RJD chief Lalu Prasad Yadav’s mega rally at Patna in August last year.

But the surprise break in that effort was perhaps first observed when Mamata Banerjee’s call for a united opposition march to the Rashtrapati Bhavan last year to protest demonetisation received positive response from the Shiv Sena, the oldest NDA constituent.

Two Sena leaders, Chandrakant Khaire and Gajanan Kirtikar, walked alongside Mamata that afternoon, although they submitted a separate memorandum to the President.

The Trinamool chief’s clarion call, whoever, fell on deaf ears within the Congress, Left, SP and BSP. Besides Shiv Sena, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah and AAP’s Bhagwant Mann joined the protest.

It is the new-found friendship which the Bengal Chief Minister seems to have taken forward at her Mumbai meeting on Thursday. Mamata seems willing to set aside the fact that the Shiv Sena is a Hindu nationalist party which barely conforms to the political ideology the Trinamool Congress swears by — that of accommodating plurality in political discourse.

What seems to matter to her now is the perception that the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance is presently on the brink and she is willing to do whatever it takes to widen that crack.

“The Shiv Sena is doing the right thing by criticising the BJP despite being an ally. That is giving us hope,” she told reporters after the meet.

Both sides confessed to having discussed the nationwide fallout of Centre’s demonetisation and GST decisions.

Mamata, reportedly, also proposed a collaboration between the municipal bodies of Mumbai and Kolkata. But no prizes for guessing that it’s the mega show of democracy in 2019 that both leaders are eyeing, with Thackeray having the additional burden of fighting the state elections, besides the Lok Sabha polls.

With just 23 seats short of absolute majority in the Maharashtra assembly, the BJP has remarkably improved its political footprint in the state over the years, much to the chagrin of the Shiv Sena. The latter’s sharp criticism of the Devendra Fadnavis government over contentious issues of farm loan waiver, urban development and, of late, corruption has drawn the allies farthest from each other in recent times. That’s a fact that Mamata Banerjee is more than aware of and is hoping to cash in on.

But question remains that if the BJP-Shiv Sena combine is a marriage of convenience that’s falling apart, how different would the so-called new equation be if it isn’t built on common political agenda that certainly isn’t common enemy?

But as they say, all’s fair in love, war and politics.