Last week, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee met Communist Party of India (Marxist) state secretary Biman Bose in her office to listen to complaints of violence committed by Trinamool Congress cadre against CPI(M) workers. Their discussions, over plates of fish fry, cream rolls and Darjeeling tea, sent Kolkata's rumour mills into overdrive.

The Bengali newspapers, especially, had a field day, describing the CPI(M) leader’s decision to meet the chief minister, instead of engaging in the more traditional route of street protest, as a "surrender". However, impartial observers are suggesting the June 9 meeting is an indication that politics in West Bengal has taken an unprecedented turn.

The cordial meeting between the rivals comes in the wake of a series of resounding victories for the TMC in the Lok Sabha elections, where it won 34 of 42 seats. Banerjee and Bose met to discuss the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, and the implication of this rise on secular politics in the state. Banerjee had received several requests for meetings from left leaders and unions in the past but chose not to meet. The political threat posed by the BJP after its own impressive performance in the general elections has seemingly changed Banerjee’s mind.

At the meeting, she first inquired why so many party workers were leaving the CPM to join the BJP, advising Bose to maintain order at home. When he raised the issue of post-poll violence by TMC workers on his party cadres and threatened to stage a protest, Banerjee said he should. “Why not?” she is reported to have told him. “Protest is the job of a political party”.

Banerjee's meeting with the Bose is surprising, considering that her political career has been forged upon her direct and virulent opposition to the CPI(M) in West Bengal. However, it seems that Banerjee is once again proving most responsive to the shifting political winds. She has grasped that the anti-CPI(M) politics that brought her to power no longer has the visceral appeal it carried at the tail end of the Communists’ 34-year-rule in West Bengal. The demise of the CPI(M) as an opposition force in the state would leave a vacuum that the BJP is eager to slip into.

There is also the possibility that the calculated gamble could go horribly wrong for both parties. Expelled CPI(M) leaders Rezzak Mollah and Prasenjit Bose have publicly said any signs of co-operation with the TMC would further demoralise the party cadre. Many TMC leaders are also sceptical, fearing that this will further strengthen the BJP. But BJP leaders in the state hope that they will get mileage in a state in which they have made little progress if the issue of secularism is positioned as the key political fault-line.

Bose has assured party workers that the CPI(M) will turn to protest if Banerjee doesn’t act on their complaints. Banerjee, on her part, has formed a coordination committee between the two parties, with senior leaders from both sides, to look into the allegations of violence.