UPA approves rural job funds for Bengal: Politics at play

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Kolkata, March 26: Union Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh took a further step towards mending relation with the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in West Bengal on Tuesday. He called up state panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee to inform the latter that the Centre has approved Rs 270 crore for the 100-day rural job scheme in the state.

One report said that an elated Mukherjee repeatedly thanked Ramesh, saying it was a welcome development ahead of the crucial panchayat elections in the state.

Mukherjee also said in the close quarters that even Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee expressed her satisfaction after the Centre agreed to provide the funds which the state government has been demanding for a long time. He said demand for the due amounts were being put forward from several districts and the latest decision by the Centre gave the state government a welcome relief.

Political significance of the generosity

Political observers feel that the Centre's generosity towards Bengal, which it didn't show for some time owing to deteriorating relations with Banerjee, is not without any political significance. Ever since the DMK pulled out of the UPA government over the Sri Lanka issue and put the government in a serious danger of crumbling, the Congress has been tilting towards finding new allies for over-dependence on the Mulayams and Mayawatis could not be a risk-free business.

Bihar & Bengal on UP agenda?

The UPA has already been wooing Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and the latter has also been giving indications that the JD(U) could consider a new alliance. Ramesh also wrote to Kumar to announce the clearance of an additional Rs 244 crore for the rural job scheme in Bihar besides wooing Banerjee by asking whether she was still angry with him or not after the latter responded to his sms requesting for a meeting after five days.

It was the same Ramesh who had criticised Banerjee as a bad administrator last December, three months after the TMC pulled out of the UPA. He had accused the state government of failing to spend central funds for local development.

An effort for image makeover

The 180-degree shift in Ramesh's position since December 8 has also been shaped by state politics. If the Congress-led continued to target the TMC government, the latter would find it convenient to blame it for all hardship of rural Bangal. The TMC has already been projecting that the Centre has deprived the state in this year's railway budget and further silence on behalf of the Congress would have led to a debacle in the polls.

The party is feeling boosted after the recent by-polls in which its vote-share witnessed an increase and will not like to ruin its chances in the upcoming panchayat polls. It is trying to fill the vacuum in the state politics which been created by Banerjee's decreasing popularity and the Left Front's continuing coma.

TMC has also understood that no way forward without Congress

The TMC has also perhaps understood that keeping a distance with the Congress will not help its cause. It can join the BJP but that is a risky proposition keeping in mind the minority votes. The other option is the Congress, which is also trying to corner the TMC in Darjeeling hills by joining hands with the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

The TMC will need a minimum number of MPs if it wants to play a major role in national politics in the future and for that it has to show good work while in power and for putting up a electoral performance, assistance from the Centre can not be overlooked. Mamata Banerjee recently said that her party would back the UPA on the Sri Lankan question. Another senior minister, Kamal Nath, also called her up.

Banerjee can understand the compulsion of politics but will she think it consistently? That is the question.

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