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11 Apr 2017

Mamata in flurry of meets

J.P. Yadav and Meghdeep Bhattacharyya, TT, April 10: Mamata Banerjee today tried to claim a spot at the centre stage of national politics, holding meetings with key Opposition leaders besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP patriarch L.K. Advani in Delhi.
Her presence in the capital during Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit has helped the Bengal chief minister grab the spotlight, and she used it to the hilt through the day.
Mamata met Modi in the morning to demand prompt clearance of the Rs 10,000 crore the Centre owes Bengal, then travelled to Parliament where she touched Advani's feet and sought his blessings.
She later stressed the importance of personal ties with leaders across parties.
"Whenever I come to Delhi, I meet Advaniji and other political leaders. Despite political differences I maintain personal relations with leaders of all parties," she told reporters.
Trinamul sources said that meeting Advani right after Modi was part of a balancing act that was part of Mamata's efforts to enhance her stature in national politics.
"Everybody knows about the strained ties between Modi and Advani. She has already stated publicly that she would support Advani for President. By meeting him today, she sent a loud message to the Modi camp," a Trinamul Lok Sabha member said.
Political opponents, however, saw a "hidden agenda" in the two meetings. CPM central committee member Mohammad Salim alleged that Mamata had thanked both leaders for the parliamentary ethics panel's delay in probing the Narada allegations. Modi is leader of the Lok Sabha and Advani is chairman of the ethics panel.
After meeting Advani, Mamata sat with her MPs in the party office at Parliament House, where several leaders of the national Opposition came to meet her.
She held closed-door meetings with Congress members Ghulam Nabi Azad - leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha - and Ahmed Patel, besides senior Nationalist Congress Party politician Praful Patel.
In the evening, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav called on Mamata at the official residence of her nephew Abhishek and had a 30-minute, one-to-one meeting.
Mamata met Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik in the Central Hall of Parliament. Patnaik was in Delhi for a meeting of the Inter State Council. After the customary greetings, the two conversed in private for some time.
"She was on fire today. Not since the early days of her anti-demonetisation movement have we seen such a performance from her," a Trinamul Rajya Sabha member said.
Mamata, asked whether she was trying to build a wider Opposition unity or even a "grand alliance" against the BJP for the 2019 general election, did not offer a direct confirmation or denial.
She cited how she had been proposing wider coordination among the Opposition parties even in the absence of such an alliance.
"We are all trying to find common ground... Everybody should try and come together on a common platform," she said.
Reminded about the political differences between the possible members of such a platform, such as the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, she said these could be resolved. "The priority is to walk together. When obstacles come, we can resolve them," she said.
Later, Trinamul members joined a delegation of 16 parties to the Election Commission - which included the Left as well as the Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and the DMK - to urge the return of paper ballots.
Mamata herself had earlier in the day made the same demand, saying the electronic voting machines "can be tampered" with, echoing a charge the BJP has been facing in relation to the recent round of Assembly elections.
"Old is always gold," Mamata added. "If there are doubts, let us opt for ballot papers.... When so many parties are raising doubts, the commission has to listen."
Trinamul sources close to Mamata said she was keen on meeting Sonia Gandhi and they were seeking an appointment.
"If we get the appointment, she will meet her tomorrow," a Trinamul politician said. Mamata is to leave for Calcutta tomorrow afternoon.

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