West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik have met twice in recent times, once in 2017 and then in 2020, but have never discussed politics as stated on record. But this time, Banerjee’s visit to West Bengal’s neighbouring state on Tuesday may be a crucial one ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections next year.
The buzz around her meeting with Patnaik, which is scheduled for March 23, is at a peak in wake of her joining hands with Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav for a so-called ‘New Front’ for the polls next year.
Banerjee will be offering prayers at Jagannath Mandir as she arrives in Odisha on Tuesday. Party insiders said the Trinamool Congress is planning to join hands with more regional leaders to form a front, which will remain equidistant from Congress and BJP.
Senior TMC MP Sudip Banerjee said, “A lot of NDA partners are unhappy; so, we will talk to them. All regional parties will work together, that’s what Mamata Banerjee wants.”
Yadav and Banerjee met last week following which they proposed an “anti-BJP and anti-Congress lobby”. “The TMC wants to unite regional parties; the Congress has failed every time and the meeting with Naveen Patnaik will be important for sure,” TMC general secretary Kunal Ghosh told News18.
Banerjee is now heading towards Odisha, where Patnaik is also known to maintain an equal distance from BJP and Congress. The chief minister for the past 22 years, he has successfully kept the BJP out of power in Odisha.
But if the BJD-BJP relations are analysed, an interesting picture is drawn. The BJD started its journey in 1997 and, in 1998, became a BJP ally. Till 2004, all was well between the two parties but things fell apart after the Kandhamal violence in 2008.
In 2009, the BJD won 14 seats in the Lok Sabha and secured 108 seats out of 147 in Odisha. In 2014, it won 20 out of 21 seats in Lok Sabha and 117 out of 147 in the assembly elections. In 2019, the BJD got 12 seats in Lok Sabha and 112 out of 147 in the assembly.
Though the BJD is not part of the NDA, railway minister Ashwini Vaishnaw is a Rajya Sabha MP with BJD support. There is a common saying that though the BJD and BJP sees eye to eye in the state, the regional party BJD maintains a distant relationship with them at a national level.
The BJD, which has been in power in Odisha for 22 years, has backed the central government on issues such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and also supported BJP’s presidential candidate Droupadi Murmu.
Hence, Banerjee and Patnaik’s meeting amid hopes of a strong regional party front has given rise to a lot of speculation. Patnaik is a powerful player in Odisha, both in Lok Sabha and the state legislative assembly. Odisha has 21 Lok Sabha seats, of which BJD won 12 and BJP eight in 2019.
Odisha revenue minister Pramila Mallick said, “The ruling BJD has maintained equal distance and extended issue-based support. There is no problem discussing with those whose policies are compatible with BJD. The chief minister will decide.”
Odisha Congress MLA Santosh Singh Salima said, “Naveen is always with the BJP. Mamata’s meeting with him will not be fruitful. Mamata-Naveen meet will be limited to a formality…”
Sources said BJP, too, will keep an eye on this meeting. “When Mamata Banerjee meets Odisha CM Naveen Patnaik, things she must learn from him are – how to be a graceful opposition leader, govern a state without perennially being confrontational and treat all people of her state as equals and not look at them through a political prism. The gory post-poll violence will forever remain a blot on Mamata Banerjee’s hand. She is a political pariah, so no amount of political meetings will wash her sins,” said BJP co-incharge of Bengal, Amit Malviya.
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