For a year now, Mamata Banerjee has been giving subtle indications of parting ways with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA. On Thursday, she finally said it outright: the Trinamool Congress is on its own. "We are with nobody."
Her comment, coming at a madrasa function in Kolkata, was a clear message to Muslim voters: having disassociated herself with the state BJP and its politics over the last year, she was now exiting the NDA. She however refrained to say anything about the Congress.
"We are now with no one and are trying to stand on our own in Bengal. In Bengal, our party is going it alone," Mamata said.
Political observers read this as the beginning of Mamata's drive to woo Muslims, who comprise 27 per cent of the state voters, in Bengal. Not that she has ever separated from them, irrespective of her political coalitions. "What has my relations with the Muslims got to do with my political compulsions in the state or the Centre. For the Muslims, I am a symbol of secularism. And they are with me, irrespective of my national partners," she said confidently.
The indications have been there for some time now. Last year, when the Singur agitation began, Mamata invited the Congress to join the movement against the Tata Motors plant. She did not invite her NDA partner, the BJP.
This scenario was played out again this year in the Nandigram agitation. She again called the Congress to join her movement, cold-shouldering the BJP.
A few months ago, in the municipality by-elections in Panskura and Haldia, the Trinamool Congress had a seat adjustment with the Congress. She did not leave any seat for the BJP in both the civic by-polls.
And most prominently, during the recent Presidential poll, Mamata issued a whip: her MLAs in West Bengal were ordered not to vote for BJP candidate Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. Trinamool abstained, ostensibly because APJ Abdul Kalam was not given a second term.
The shift in Mamata's stance is understandable. She believes that general elections are round the corner. With relations between the Congress and the CPI(M) souring over the Indo-US nuclear deal, it is a smart move to position herself as a neutral, keeping her options open for a national alliance after the general elections, whenever they occur.
"The CPI(M) is the common enemy of both the Trinamool and the Congress (in Bengal). The two parties should take on the Marxists," she says.