With equations changing thick and fast within their coalitions, both the Congress and the BJP are trying to outdo each other in getting Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on their side.
West Bengal chief minster Mamta Bennerjee shouts at deputy chairman of planning commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia and parliamentary affairs minster Rajiv Shukla, after West Bengal finance minister Amit Mitra was heckled and had his shirt torn off by Students Federation of India activists in New Delhi. HT/Mohd Zakir
While senior functionaries of the Congress-led government at the Centre were Tuesday offering generous funds to the Bengal chief minister, the BJP’s Narendra Modi was praising her effusively in Kolkata, saying the state was moving “in the right direction”.
As Gujarat chief minister Modi supported Banerjee’s long-standing demand for more central funds, which not-so-long ago had pitted her against the Centre, the planning commission announced an increase of 17% in the state’s annual allocation to Rs. 30,314 crore.
The increase is substantial considering finance minister P Chidambaram gave the panel just 6% more funds for states and central schemes for fiscal 2014 as against the last financial year.
On Tuesday, the panel, instead of pointing out gaps in its policies, was all praise for the Banerjee government. “In its three years, Bengal has done well,” planning commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia said, offering help to remove environmental and approval roadblocks in the way of mega projects.
Modi, who many see as the BJP's PM candidate, too, was "understanding". Accusing the Centre of discriminating against the non-UPA states, the BJP leader said Bengal needed more funds. The state was "progressing in the right direction", he said, adding "dreams of the people will be fulfilled".
Earlier, too, Modi had tried to woo Banerjee. He invited her to his swearing-in after winning a third term in December last, but she stayed away.
Supporting the BJP will be difficult for Banerjee, who stormed out of the UPA in September last after a tumultuous relationship with the Congress, as Bengal has a significant Muslim population. Traditionally Left supporters, Muslims backed Banerjee in the 2011 elections, ending 34 years of Left Front rule in the state.
In 2009 general elections, the Congress-Trinamoool alliance won 25 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal. Though she has walked out of the UPA, she will be aware of the pitfalls involved in going it alone in the 2014 polls.
The astute politician that she is, Banejree gave little away.
"I would have wanted more but I'm satisfied with what the planning commission has given," she said. To a question about Modi, she said, "Whatever I have come to know, he (Modi) appreciated the government…there can be political differences but a government's work can be appreciated by anyone".