- Mamata Banerjee meets Naveen Patnaik in Odisha, denies politics discussed
- BJP has set sights on Odisha, West Bengal - two states it has never ruled
- BJP has made recent gains in both states, worrying regional parties
The venue for today's meeting was Bhubaneswar, where the BJP's national executive set its election targets last week - both Odisha and West Bengal had figured generously in the party's expansion plans.
Mr Patnaik, Odisha's chief minister, said Ms Banerjee had dropped by at his home as she wrapped up a visit to his state. "Courtesy call. No politics discussed," he said. Mamata Banerjee concurred, but the comments that followed were significant.
"We did not discuss politics today. But politics is there 365 days," the West Bengal Chief Minister said, adding, "I don't believe the BJP is a threat. Regional parties can tackle them. But yes they are dividing everyone, people and even political parties. They sometimes purchase MLAs and ministers."
There is immediate reason for concern for both chief ministers. In Odisha, where assembly elections are due along with the national election in 2019, the BJP put on a spectacular show in panchayat polls last month, making major inroads into strongholds of Mr Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal and pushing the Congress to third position.
Assembly elections are due in Bengal only in 2021, but the BJP gave a small glimpse of what it can do when it came second to Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress in a by-election, winning 31 per cent votes. Here too it pushed the main opposition Left to third position. Till a few years ago, the BJP did not have a major political presence in either state and party chief Amit Shah has been focused on bulking up its cadres.
After the elections the BJP declared in both states that is now the chief opposition party.
Asked about the idea of a federal front of regional parties that she had floated some years ago, Ms Banerjee said today, "That is my continuous process....We want regional parties to continue and strengthen the federal structure in the country according to the Constitution."
When she had first brought up the idea of a federal front - as a counter to big players BJP and the Congress - Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar was a key potential member. But now that he is perceived to have drawn closer again to the BJP, Ms Banerjee will have to look for other partners. Naveen Patnaik could her be her first and best bet.