May 17, 2011
Mamata Banerjee meets Prime Minister & Congress President
Delhi, May 16: Mamata Banerjee stuffed a few currency notes into the hands of a tearful Rail Bhavan liftman on her last trip to Delhi as railway minister today. She then left to pay her dues to an old friendship that has stood rock solid amid many political whirligigs and banana skins.
The chief minister-elect arrived at 10 Janpath with a smile, a bouquet, a packet of sweets from Calcutta and a sari for Sonia Gandhi. She also had an invitation on her lips: “Please come to Friday’s swearing-in.”
Sonia almost rushed out with arms outstretched and put an affectionate arm around her visitor’s shoulder, the two women giggling like schoolgirls and Ms Banerjee rolling her eyes in mock awe. Then they disappeared for a one-to-one huddle behind closed doors for nearly 20 minutes.
Mamata Banerjee, walked out with the smile intact. “I invited Soniaji to the oath-taking. She said she would let me know,” the Trinamool Congress chief told reporters.
Asked if the Congress would join her ministry in Bengal, she said: “Of course, it will.”
The chief minister-in-waiting then mentioned how her ties with the Nehru-Gandhis went back to the days of Rajiv Gandhi. “I have always been very close to Rajiv Gandhi’s family. He was very fond of me. Today, Soniaji congratulated me again for the historic victory in Bengal.”
Sonia has herself played no mean role in that victory, with her deft handling of state Congress satraps hostile to Mamata Banerjee and her concessions to the Trinamool chief’s demands to keep the alliance afloat.
For well over a decade, through ups and downs and serial political realignments, she had been steadfast in her confidence that Ms Banerjee could do what Sonia’s Bengal lieutenants couldn’t: topple the Left in the state.
From Janpath, Ms Banerjee traveled to 7 Race Course Road today, arriving around 5pm and leaving over a half-hour later. She gave the Prime Minister a packet of sweets and a bouquet too.
She said she had invited Manmohan Singh to the swearing-in “but he cannot attend it because he has a very busy schedule, including foreign tours”. But she added that Singh had promised to visit Calcutta after he returned from abroad.
“I shall resign as railway minister a day before taking oath on May 20,” Mamata Banerjee told reporters. “Friday is a very good day for all castes and communities…”
Asked if Singh had agreed to let Trinamool retain the railway ministry, she said: “He is a very good man and a positive person…. No problem with it.”
Earlier, Ms Banerjee had spent over an hour at her Rail Bhavan office. “She told senior officials they could always call her if they needed advice. She assured us the ministry would be with Trinamool,” an official said. “She will not go anywhere,”
Might Trinamool take advantage of this to ask for more portfolios at the Centre? “No, no, I don’t demand like this,” the Railway Minister said. “We want to retain the railway ministry because it’s the only (Union) cabinet post we have. But it’s the Prime Minister’s choice.”
In what was probably her last act as railway minister, Mamata Banerjee today inaugurated an on-board magazine, Rail Bandhu, that will be handed out to Rajdhani and Shatabdi passengers.
As she stepped out of the Rail Bhavan at 3.30pm, she did not forget the liftman.
“She is the leader of the masses and loves everybody equally. The Rail Bhavan will not be the same in her absence,” the liftman said.