West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday decided to drop her plan to attend the swearing-in ceremonies of the new Punjab and Uttar Pradesh chief ministers, citing “preoccupation” with affairs of her state.
Banerjee was invited by Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal to attend his oath-taking ceremony on March 14, while Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav extended an invitation to attend the swearing in of his son Akhilesh as UP CM the next day.
The twin invitations to the Trinamool Congress chief, whose party is the second largest constituent of the UPA with 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha, had triggered speculation of a realignment of regional political parties to form an anti-Congress front.
An upset Congress hit back, virtually telling Banerjee not to cross the ‘Laxman Rekha’ of ‘coalition dharma’.
“Social interactions with strangers by those in partnerships are permissible, but obviously if things go beyond the normal boundaries of social courtesy, it would become immoral,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said.
Singhvi later played down the matter after the Trinamool leader decided to send two representatives to Chandigarh and Lucknow. “I don’t understand why either her going or not going should make news. These are social courtesies which frequently happen in politics,” he said.
Singhvi's remarks were significant as they came just a day before the budget session of Parliament which is poised to be a tough affair for the Congress-led coalition, with the opposition attempting to make common cause with UPA allies and supporting parties on issues such as the government’s proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre.
Said Trinamool Rajya Sabha MP Derek O'Brian, “I just spoke to Mamatadi. She was keen to make the trip to Chandigarh and Lucknow but now she will be in West Bengal to attend the Nandigram Diwas on March 14 and the governor's address in the assembly on March 15.”