Nov. 17: Mamata Banerjee today signalled she was not averse to doing business with the BJP for the "motherland's" cause.
Mamata said the Trinamul Congress was ready to table a no-confidence motion against the Manmohan Singh government when the Lok Sabha convenes for the winter session on November 22.
Such a motion requires at least 50 Lok Sabha MPs' support to qualify for admission. Mamata has 19.
Initially, the chief minister did not specifically name the BJP but issued an appeal to "all political parties to support the motion".
Asked whether her appeal was addressed to her former ally BJP also, Mamata said: "It is wrong for the BJP to be dubbed untouchable."
"When the Congress talks to BJP, it is touchable. When other political parties want to talk to the BJP on political reasons, political grounds, then it is untouchable. This cannot be. The Prime Minister sits with Sushmaji, Soniaji sits with Advaniji, Sushmaji ' that is not faulty.
"Why will it be a faulty issue for the Trinamul Congress? This is not a religious issue, vote-bank or alliance issue. This is the corruption and motherland issue," Mamata told reporters after a 45-minute meeting with her party MPs at Writers' Buildings. Dissident MP Kabir Suman stayed away from the meeting.
The Congress did not betray immediate signs of panic, keeping a watch on whether Mamata's stand on the BJP would reach a stage when it would boomerang on her in Bengal. The Congress feels Mamata cannot afford to alienate Muslims in Bengal as she did when she allied with the NDA once.
Muslim leaders are also watching the developments. Qari Fazlur Rahman, who leads the Id prayers on Red Road every year, said in response to a question: "Mamata Banerjee should not forget that Muslims in the state stood behind her in the 2011 elections and that was the major reason for the majority she enjoyed. The minority community will not accept her cosying up to the BJP.
Rahman added: "We will wait and watch whether it is a mere appeal or she actually goes into an alliance or takes their support in toppling the central government."
Another minority leader said that unlike FDI, the BJP is a very emotional issue for the community, "especially when Narendra Modi is positioning himself as a potential Prime Minister".
The BJP, which would not mind cosying up to Mamata but is said to be not keen on early polls unlike her, said it would respond later.
By late evening, Trinamul spin-doctors said too much should not be read into Mamata's statement.
Mamata's persistent focus today on the national imperative and the cause of the motherland is being seen as an attempt to address the concerns. "Like during the JP movement days, all parties should come together to vote against this corrupt government. Motherland ka sawaal hai," she said.
Trinamul sources said the party was yet to reach out to anyone. "It is for other parties to decide. If nobody responds, she can tell the people that other political parties have failed her," a former Trinamul minister said.
Congress leaders said the government was ready for a trial of strength. A big relief reached Sonia Gandhi last night when DMK chief M. Karunanidhi assured his party's support to the government.
Congress sources said Mayawati had also conveyed to the Prime Minister that the BSP was not interested in toppling the government at this stage. This means the government will have at least 282 MPs' support (against the minimum required 272) even if Mulayam Singh Yadav is nurturing different ideas.
Unlike the FDI resolution that does not involve the fate of the government, a no-confidence motion will be harder to push because not many MPs want elections now.
The government feels a no-trust motion will push the FDI row into the background and allow the government to approach parties on the pretext of preventing communal forces from grabbing power.
Some Congress leaders said Mamata's move would lend credence to the theme that "a secular government is being pulled down to pave way for the BJP's return".
Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari told The Telegraph: "The overriding postulate of the coalition era has been the people's desire for stability of government. If the chief minister of Bengal has articulated such a sentiment, it is worth her while to reflect and introspect as to whom she is intending to work with and to what objective."
Shakeel Ahmed, the Congress's Bengal in-charge, spoke unambiguously: "Mamata should explain to the people of Bengal what kind of tacit understanding she had with the BJP and the CPM."
The BJP could not decide on its parliamentary strategy today because of Thackeray's death. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cancelled a dinner for BJP leaders.
Asked about Mamata's appeal, BJP's chief spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad said: "Right now, we are coming to terms with Balasaheb's passing away. We can't think of anything else. We will confabulate with the NDA leaders and take a call."
The BJP will speak to allies Nitish Kumar and Parkash Singh Badal to assess their views.
Sources said the BJP would weigh in a couple of factors. "First, we must respond positively to every overture made by Mamata. Sometimes, power has its own dynamics and cements strange partnerships."
Bengal BJP president Rahul Sinha termed Mamata's announcement "a political stunt" to divert attention from the state's problems.
Sinha added that his party was "in favour of a no-confidence motion" against the UPA. "But there is a process to reach a consensus…. She has to discuss it with my central leaders," he said.