Himanta-Mamata Meet In Darjeeling Triggers Buzz; Many In Bengal BJP Dismayed
The Sarma-Banerjee meeting, and in such apparent cordiality, has left many BJP leaders and workers in Bengal dismayed.
What has not helped is the secrecy that has shrouded the meeting.
A meeting between Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Bengal counterpart Mamata Banerjee at the Raj Bhawan in Darjeeling earlier this week has triggered intense speculation.
Sarma claimed that he had gone to Darjeeling, Bengal’s prime tourist destination, at the invitation of Governor Jagdeep Dhankar. And when he dropped in to the gubernatorial residence there, the Bengal Chief Minister also happened to drop in.
Both the chief ministers were at pains to convey the impression that their meeting was casual and they indulged in only innocuous chit-chat. Banerjee described it as a “courtesy meeting over tea”.
Banerjee said: “It felt good to meet Himanta. When I went to Kamakhya temple (in Guwahati) he helped me a lot. I think our relationship must continue as there are several Assamese in Bengal and many Bengalis in Assam. We share a border in Alipurduar district. The two state governments must keep communicating with each other”.
Sarma did not speak to media persons or issue a statement after the meeting, confining himself to an innocuous post by Dhankar with photographs of the three of them meeting at the Raj Bhawan.
However, the Himanta-Mamata meeting was anything but ‘casual’. Their interactions lasted over two hours and the two could not have held ‘casual’ discussions over such a long time.
The interests of the two chief ministers are too widely divergent to facilitate any casual chit-chat, and that too over two hours. Moreover, with the Governor also sitting in, it appears that some serious issues were discussed.
The animosity between Dhankar and Banerjee, who have often issued acerbic and at times ugly statements against each other is very well known. Banerjee also has no love lost for the BJP, and Sarma is a senior leader of the saffron party.
But the photos of the meeting posted by Dhankar convey that the three were at complete ease with each other and that the meeting was very cordial.
Also, it was Dhankar who not only facilitated, but also hosted, the meeting between Sarma and Banerjee. The question that naturally arises is why would Dhankar, holding a Constitutional post, facilitate what was obviously a political meeting between chief ministers of two states who are also leaders of two parties that have no love lost for each other.
It must also be remembered that in early May 2019, Sarma came under by Trinamool goons when he had gone to East Midnapore to campaign for the BJP’s Lok Sabha candidate there. The then BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh had accompanied Sarma. Though the two escaped unhurt, though their cars suffered extensive damage.
A shaken Sarma had slammed Banerjee and termed her ‘dictatorial’ and ‘fascist’ at that time. Sarma had also blasted Banerjee for the post-poll violence in Bengal last year.
In a strongly-worded tweet after Banerjee was sworn in as the Chief Minister for the third time last year, Sarma wrote: “Once the land of Rabindranath Tagore where he taught his fellow countrymen about the spirit of peace and brotherhood, the destiny of Bengal has taken such a painful turn. Today a tyrant in Mamata Banerjee has taken oath as the CM with blood of innocents on her hands”.
The easy bonhomie and congenial body language between Sarma and Banerjee also stood out in stark contrast to images of meetings between Prime Minister Modi and Banerjee. Banerjee has often used foul language against Modi, and the latter had gone all out against Banerjee in the 2019 Lok Sabha and 2021 Assembly campaigns.
The uneasiness between the two is easily evident from their body language as seen below:
Why Bengal BJP functionaries are dismayed:
The Sarma-Banerjee meeting, and in such apparent cordiality, has left many BJP leaders and workers in Bengal quite dismayed. What has not helped is the secrecy that has shrouded the meeting.
There seem to be no takers for Banerjee’s description of the meeting as a “courtesy meeting over tea”. And the secrecy over what transpired at the meeting has triggered wild speculation in BJP ranks.
BJP leaders in Bengal told Swarajya that it is quite certain that the Sarma-Banerjee meeting had the blessings of the BJP central leadership, especially Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Sarma is known to be close to Shah and the two share a good rapport.
“The meeting in Darjeeling could not have taken place without the knowledge and express approval of Amit Shahji. Himantaji came to Darjeeling for the sole purpose of meeting Mamata Banerjee and the two met at the Darjeeling Raj Bhawan in the presence of the Governor,” said a very senior BJP leader.
"It was anything but a casual meeting. None of our state leaders, including our Darjeeling Lok Sabha MP (Raju Bista) were kept in the loop. It is thus apparent that some very important issues were discussed and an understanding was perhaps reached,” BJP leader added.
It is the nature of such an ‘understanding’ that has caused consternation in the BJP ranks in Bengal. Was Banerjee holding out an olive branch to the BJP central leadership which then deployed Sarma to discuss the matter with Banerjee?
Speculation is rife that Banerjee has proposed a deal to the BJP central leadership that she would tone down her criticism of the BJP, keep herself confined to Bengal and also extend support to the NDA government at the centre on critical and crucial issues.
In return, she would be allowed to rule Bengal and central investigative agencies would be asked to ease pressure on Trinamool leaders (including her nephew Abhishek Banerjee) who are under the agencies’ scanners.
BJP leaders and functionaries in Bengal fear that acceptance of Banerjee’s offer by the party’s central leadership would virtually amount to the state BJP being set adrift by the party’s central leadership. And all the hard work and sacrifices made by thousands of saffron functionaries in Bengal going down the drain.
“Our fears are not unfounded. Such an understanding was reached in the past too. And it resulted in all our work being negated,” said the BJP leader.
A senior office-bearer of the party told Swarajya that the BJP central leadership would be well-advised to desist from any such misadventure.
“History provides a telling lesson in this. The Congress had such an understanding with the CPI(M) in the past. As a result, the Congress lost all credibility in Bengal and Mamata Banerjee broke away from the Congress, formed her own party and ultimately unseated the CPI(M) from power. Banerjee had aptly described the Congress in Bengal as a watermelon then: green on the outside and red inside. Our central leaders should be cautious of walking into Banerjee’s trap,” she said.
Another senior BJP leader contended that optics hold a lot of significance in politics. “Photos of the meeting in Darjeeling Raj Bhavan and the easy bonhomie between the three persons who have ugly spats in public make for bad optics. It is natural for our party workers who face relentless attacks from Trinamool goons to be disheartened,” he said.
It is also significant, say political observers, that the Assam Chief Minister journeyed to Bengal to meet Banerjee. It would have been a different matter if the two had met on some neutral ground.
The Assam Chief Minister’s sudden visit to Darjeeling and his ‘chance’ meeting with Banerjee there has, thus, caused a lot of misgivings among Bengal BJP leaders and workers. And this should have been avoided since BJP functionaries in Bengal have suffered such a lot at the hands of Trinamool goons.
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