Mamata Banerjee has done it again. The temperamental leader has taken everyone by surprise and come around to supporting Pranab Mukherjee for the top post of the country, swallowing her pride and being ‘pained’ along the way. Ditched by Mulayam Singh Yadav and former president APJ Abdul Kalam, the maverick Chief Minister of West Bengal was cornered from all sides and as she said she was probably left with ‘no choice’.
Bravely facing the media, Mamata announced that the Trinamool Congress will support the former finance minister in the race to Raisina Hills. However, Mamata should not feel too bad about it. Poor Pranab has been imploring her everyday to vote for him - calling her a ‘sister’ in order to woo her. In fact he said recently – “I appeal to her almost every day. It is for her to decide (whether to support me for Presidency).” (It is another matter that they hadn’t talked to each other for months. But after Mamata's declaration of support for Pranab, he called an
d thanked her.)
Is there anyone who can claim to know Mamata or understand her well? The woman who had left Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the lurch and walked out of the NDA and who had left the Congress to form her own party gave the impression this time around that she would hold her fort and not buckle whatever the compulsions may be.
Remember not too long ago she had the gumption to take over none other than the Congress president Sonia Gandhi on the issue of the presidential election. And in her brave attempt to do so, whom did she rely upon? – the wily politician from the Hindi heartland – Mulayam Singh Yadav. Mamata did the famous press conference with him after meeting with the UPA chairperson, giving a thumbs down to Sonia’s choice of candidates for the President (which incidentally included Pranab) and announcing the name of APJ Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh and Somnath Chatterjee as their choice. While the name of the Prime Minister coming from an ally embarrassed the Congress no end, Sonia Gandhi literally took her head on and promptly named Pranab as the UPA’s candidate.
It seemed then that Mamata had already lost the battle before it had begun. But what completely decimated her was the fact that before anyone could bat an eyelid, the former CM of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam did a complete U-turn and promptly declared his support for Pranab. I guess Mamata must have learnt some new lessons from the Samajwadi Party supremo on how the game of politics is played. In fact Mulayam and Mayawati literally fell over each other to declare their love for the veteran Congress leader. (Both have a disproportionate assets case hanging over them and both have their pound of flesh to extract from the Congress. But that is another debate.)
Coming back to Mamata – What did the cornered leader from Bengal do – She wryly said that Mulayam was a ‘politician’ and ominously declared that ‘the game was not over yet’. ‘Wait and watch’ – she added.
In the interim wait and watch period what happened – Mamata went on to make her debut on social networking site Facebook garnering support for Kalam, who subsequently formally announced that he was not in the contention for the top post of the country and the West Bengal CM was once again left high and dry. Imagine the man for whom the lady had staked her prestige was not there in the offing at all.
Anyway, from then till now Mamata has been quiet – only to come out now and declare with a ‘sad heart’ that in a democracy it was not right not to vote and that if her party had to vote, then they might as well do it for the grand old man of the Congress party. “It was the only option. We did not decide to vote for Pranab to please anyone; in a democracy if we don’t vote then it would be betrayal of the people,” she said. We have to grant her one thing – she may be a politician who is ruled more by her heart but then at least she is honest.
Yes, Mamata was being honest when she said that she was left with no choice. With the coffers of her state empty and the economy in shambles, she needs huge financial support from the Centre to bring West Bengal back on track. And if she had on an impulse left the alliance at the Centre what would she have gained? A few more seats in the next Lok Sabha if the government were to fall and if the General Elections were to be held earlier than 2014. But that scenario was unlikely as there was always Mulayam and Mayawati waiting in line to extend support to the Congress-led government and help it survive. As it is both of them have been supporting the UPA from the outside. So in the end Mamata would lose the support of a friendly government at the Centre and there would be no surety as to where the TMC would stand in the next elections.
Also Mamata was pretty sure that her party people would cross vote in case she went against Pranab.
She could not go along with the NDA without quitting the UPA and going with Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalithaa was also not a viable and practical option.
Post Script: Well, after all, we will have a Mamata looking on when Pranab is anointed King (which seems most likely as of now). But will she smile or will she look pained...just ‘wait and watch’.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)