September 9, 2010

Is Centre shielding Mamata on Maoist issue?

By Marcus Dam

The Hindu, September 2, 2010
Two Union Ministers defending Mamata's remarks shows that Congress will go to any length to keep its alliance with Trinamool.

Successive comments by two senior Union Ministers within four days on certain remarks of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on the Maoist situation in West Bengal only go to show that the Congress is overtly keen on not upsetting the apple-cart and will go to any length to keep its alliance with its partner in the United Progressive Alliance government intact.

Not to be forgotten is the critical Assembly election in West Bengal due next year and the need for shoring up the rather wobbly electoral pact between the two parties in the State.

By stating in New Delhi on Wednesday that “there are some camps in some parts of West Bengal,” Home Minister P. Chidambaram virtually endorsed Ms. Banerjee's allegations about the existence of camps belonging to armed activists of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in the Jangal Mahal region (forest areas spanning Paschim Medinipur, Bankura and Purulia districts) in the southwest of the State.

Mr. Chidambaram, however, chose not to mention the CPI(M) while making his observation, much as Ms. Banerjee might have liked him to.

The Trinamool leadership must have felt its stand similarly vindicated on Sunday when Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, at an event here, pointed out that he saw no contradiction between Ms. Banerjee's remarks on the death of Maoist leader Azad at a rally in Lalgarh on August 9 and the UPA government's “stated policy” on the subject.

Ms. Banerjee's utterances at the rally that she believed Azad's killing in an encounter with the Andhra Pradesh police on July 2 was improper, and her paying tributes to him raised a stir in Parliament subsequently.

But even in the face of the allegation that the Maoist leader was killed in a “fake encounter,” which the Centre denied, Mr. Mukherjee said that given the Andhra Pradesh government's explanation of the situation and the circumstances under which the killing took place, he did not think “that what she [Ms. Banerjee] has stated has any contradiction with the stated policy of the UPA government.”

A chest pain Ms. Banerjee developed when a lorry hit a car of her convoy that in turned brushed against her vehicle in what was alleged to be an attempt to “assassinate” her while she was returning from Lalgarh kept her away from Parliament and from facing the Opposition's flak for her remarks at the rally till she finally made an appearance in the Lok Sabha on August 19.

That the State's Criminal Investigation Department probing the incident has so far found little evidence to suggest that it was an “assassination attempt” is another matter.

In Mr. Mukherjee shielding Ms. Banerjee from accusations of her having links with the Maoists, and his assertion that just because the Trinamool is a constituent of the UPA does not mean that it cannot have an “independent opinion” seem hidden the imperative not to rub the Trinamool chief up the wrong way.

This, particularly, at a time when the Congress is only too eager to ensure that nothing comes in the way of its alliance with the Trinamool, which is by far the dominant of the two in West Bengal's political firmament. Needless to say, much of the Congress's fortunes in the Assembly elections depend on its relations with Ms. Banerjee's party.

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