Rattled by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's last minute U-turn on the women's reservation Bill, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi held an emergency meeting with the mercurial Trinamool Congress chief in an apparent bid to pacify her.
“Gandhi telephoned to invite Banerjee for discussions,” said a senior Trinamool leader.
Shortly, Banerjee drove down to 10, Janpath. The meeting began at 8 pm and lasted 45 minutes, the leader said.
Banerjee has claimed that the Bill doesn’t accommodate concerns of the minorities. She has also been critical of the manner in which the government “forced” the Bill through in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
“We were not intimated about the decision to put the women's Bill to vote on Tuesday. There was a communication gap,” Banerjee, whose party is part of the ruling coalition, said.
The Congress has also deputed its key crisis manager Pranab Mukherjee to mollify Banerjee. Commerce Minister Anand Sharma — her boss in the Youth Congress, the youth wing of the party, at one time — has also been put on the job.
Despite misgivings, the Trinamool chief says she is for the Bill. The sudden change in her stance has stumped the Congress brass. She had attended the February 25 meeting during which the cabinet discussed the Bill. She had enthusiastically supported the move to table the legislation in its “present form”, Gandhi said on Tuesday.
The Congress quickly moved in for damage control and got in touch with the Trinamool chief to be on top of the number game in the Lok Sabha. Trinamool has 19 members in the Lok Sabha.
The Congress is hopeful that Banerjee will eventually come around. “There is a larger picture out here. We hope she would reconsider her position,” spokesman Manish Tewari said.
While she is worried about her support base among Muslims in West Bengal, Banerjee doesn’t want to burn her bridges with the Congress at this juncture. The two parties share a common ambition — uprooting the Left in the 2011 assembly elections in Bengal.
But, Banerjee continues to be in touch with RJD boss Lalu Prasad and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who are leading the charge against the Bill. “We are in touch with Banerjee and she shares our concerns,” said an RJD leader.
The Congress, too, favours a sustained relationship with the two Yadav leaders to see the important pending finance and other Bills through.