West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee met with her Odisha counterpart Naveen Patnaik today, renewing the buzz of the Trinamool chief leading an initiative to forge an alliance of regional parties against the BJP.
Mamata Banerjee called the meeting a "courtesy call" and the Odisha Chief Minister said there was no "political discussion" during the meeting, "We resolved to make the federal structure of the country permanent and strong. There was no other political discussion," he said.
Both the leaders skipped questions on the possibilities of a third front or a regional alliance for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.
Political observers, however, say there is more to the meet as Odisha will go to polls during the general elections in 2024. Sources add Mamata Banerjee is keen to have Naveen Patnaik on board, in what regional parties are describing as a 'governance platform' to shed the baggage that comes with the "Third Front" formation.
The meeting assumes significance off the back of Ms Banerjee's recent interaction with Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav in Kolkata, where they agreed to keep both the Congress and the BJP at an arm's length.
Mamata Banerjee is also scheduled to meet former Karnataka Chief Minister and JD(S) leader HD Kumaraswamy on Friday in Kolkata. She is also likely to meet Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi later this month during her protest against what she calls "injustice and denial of funds to Bengal" and "dictatorship attitude of the union government".
Opposition leaders from regional parties are keen on setting up what they describe as a governance platform of Chief Ministers from regional parties and are strictly against calling it a 'Third Front' which has political implications in the context of the 2024 elections. Political insiders say the nomenclature 'Third Front' automatically puts regional parties behind the Congress and that is something that they are keen to avoid as a matter of perception.
While maintaining that regional parties are better prepared to take on the BJP in 2024, Mamata Banerjee earlier said she was meeting Naveen Patnaik, the Biju Janata Dal chief, as she could not honour the invite extended to her during the Hockey World Cup earlier this year. "This is not a matter of United Opposition or anything. It's a courtesy meet and personal meet because there was a programme in Odisha and Naveen ji sent some ministers to invite me. I told him whenever I go to Odisha, I will meet him. Kumaraswamy ji also wanted to meet me, and he is coming to meet me at my residence on Friday."
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, whose government has had similar issues with the BJP said they are considering meeting in April as their scheduled meeting of Opposition Chief Ministers of regional parties could not happen due to ongoing assembly sessions in various states. "We eight Chief Ministers will go to each other's states. We will learn from each other on areas where we have done well. This is a governance platform, it's not a political platform," he said.
Regional parties believe a 'governance platform' to take on the BJP could also deliver political results. Sources say, in the coming days, more such meetings are being planned to take on the BJP on governance issues in the federal structure and politically in 2024.