Mamata Banerjee clearly has plenty of hard feelings for the government she belonged to till a few weeks ago. At a rally in Delhi against the liberalisation of the retail sector, there was no shortage of imprecations or taunts from her, the most obvious being that Sharad Yadav, the convenor of the NDA coalition, was by her side. (Watch: Sharad Yadav shares the stage with Mamata)
Ms Banerjee reiterated her stated position against the government's decision to increase the price of diesel, limit the supply of subsidised gas cylinders to households, and allow foreign direct investment or FDI in multi-brand retail - reforms that led her to opt out of the ruling UPA coalition. (Highlights of Mamata's speech
She said she is considering moving a no-confidence vote against the government, which is reduced to a minority without her. That may not alarm the government - it has enough votes to remain in power because of the external support loaned by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati. A bigger point of concern for the Congress is Ms Banerjee's invitation - extended warmly today - to both Yadavs, Mulayam and Sharad - to join her rally against FDI in Lucknow on November 17.
"The country is not run from Delhi, I will form a federal front," she said. She didn't elaborate if the front will be against the reforms measures or become a political alternative.
She said that she expects mid-term polls by March. Before, then, however, she plans to give the government plenty to account for. With other parties, she hopes to get a resolution in parliament against FDI in retail - in a "sense of the House," parties would on record place their opposition to the reform. "Selling the country is not reform," she said, "if the country survives, the government survives."
The notoriously short-tempered chief minister accused the Congress of being intolerant of her dissent. "Why does the Congress lose its temper so easily?" she asked, "Next time I come, I will bring ice with me to cool the Congress down." Minutes later she lost her temper at a photographer who she accused of trying to disrupt her speech.
Though Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party is against FDI in retail, it has said it will stand by the UPA to keep the "communal forces" of the opposition BJP from coming to power. Sharad Yadav's Janata Dal (United) is a major ally of the BJP and the coalition it leads, the NDA. Ms Banerjee has distanced herself from the BJP partly on account of her state's considerable Muslim population. But by inviting Sharad Yadav to her venue today, she has given the NDA the hope that political recalibration may be possible. Ms Banerjee's decisions will be guided substantially by the fact that West Bengal has panchayat-level polls next year, which will be very crucial for her to gauge voter sentiment ahead of the next general election, scheduled for 2014.
The NDA convenor had no reservations about expressing his coalition's admiration for her. "The last time too (in December 2011), Mamataji
had stopped FDI in retail, this time too she is leading the fight. She is the real tigress of Bengal," Mr Yadav said at the rally. "She is the one who is honest and honourable, has the courage to take risks. She is the only one in the country today who can do this."
The centre has emphasised that states have the right to choose whether to allow foreign companies to set up retail stores with an Indian partner -but Ms Banerjee and others say once a chain like Wal-Mart arrives in the country, it will bully its way into all parts of the country, irrespective of local opinion.
To counter Ms Banerjee, the Congress in West Bengal had organised a pro-FDI rally in Kolkata today. In the capital, the Delhi Pradesh Congress Committee organised an interaction on the issue of FDI in retail with Commerce Minister Anand Sharma. Defending FDI, Mr Sharma said that people thought multi-national fastfood giants like Dominos and McDonald's will kill Indian brands, but "Bikaner Sweets, Haldiram, they have reached New York and London, nothing happened to them".