New Delhi: The gloves are clearly off between the Congress party and the Trinamool Congress. The hardening of positions by Congress leaders and Mamata Banerjee on Thursday on the contentious issue of Presidential election may lead to a break in the relationship between the two allies.
Feisty as ever, Mamata while talking to reporters today before meeting Samajwadi Party supremo said that she will not go back on the names of the three Presidential candidates that she and Mulayam Singh Yadav named as their preferential choices, saying that it will hurt their credibility. Hitting out at the Congress and daring them to throw her out of the UPA, Mamata said that former president APJ Abdul Kalam was her first choice for the race for Raisina Hill.
“We are not scared of any threat. I know what can happen. I will see to it when the time comes”, Mamata Banerjee categorically told reporters. This was in response to what senior Congress leaders Janardhan Dwivedi and Ambika Soni had said about her. They had hit out at the leader from Bengal saying that it was ‘unethical’ of her to have revealed to the media what transpired behind closed doors. “There is a dignity to the process. When such talks are held, names are not discussed outside”, Dwivedi had lashed out.
Mamata after meeting UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi yesterday had told the waiting media that Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari were Congress’ choices for the next President. She then went ahead and named three new candidates of her choice – APJ Abdul Kalam, Mammohan Singh and Somnath Chaterjee – in a joint press conference with Mulayam, leaving the Congress in a tizzy and scurrying for cover.
Apart from listing out a separate list of candidates, what was more embarrassing for the Congress was the naming of PM Manmohan Singh as a candidate for President. This was unprecedented – to name an incumbent Prime Minister as a potential for the President’s post. This was seen as a virtual no-confidence in the PM to lead the country. The Congress did come out strongly today and said that there was no question of Manmohan Singh relinquishing the post of PM before 2014.
As per reports, sources in the Congress say that the party will most likely stick with Pranab Mukherjee and Hamid Ansari, with the Finance Minister emerging as the clear winner for the President’s post. Meanwhile, the name of incumbent Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar is also said to be in the offing.
With the hardening of positions on both sides, the moot question is whether the Congress party will throw Mamata Banerjee out of the UPA and whether the ties between the two will snap sooner than later.
The relationship between Congress party and the Trinamool Congress has been on the rocks for some time now on a host of issues but at the end of it both of them have patched up. But this time around the ties seem to have hit rock bottom, with Mamata publically taking on Sonia Gandhi.
To be noted is the fact that the Congress has never reacted so aggressively before when Mamata took them on in the past, on the issues of FDI, NCTC or on petrol price. Maybe the fact that TMC chief snubbed Sonia Gandhi this time, did not go down well with Congress.
Nonetheless, senior Congress spokesperson Janardhan Dwivedi said while talking to a TV channel that the TMC was still an ally of the UPA. Also, senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh reiterated the same, “Mamata is still an ally.” And Mamata on her part also categorically said that she had no intention of toppling the government and she will not ‘quit the UPA’ on her own. But she did add - “The ball is in the Congress’ court”.
The maverick leader probably wants early general elections as she hopes to increase her tally in the next Lok Sabha. The same could be said about Mulayam Singh Yadav. What is interesting is the fact that whenever fissures between Mamata and the UPA surfaced, the Congress always had Samajwadi Party to count on for numbers in Lok Sabha. Not to forget is the fact that the SP chief has a disproportionate assets case hanging over him and his son, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav needs monetary help from the Centre to fulfil the promises in his manifesto. So in this case, will Mulayam go with Mamata all the way or will he abandon her midway? Please note that the SP patriarch was one of the esteemed guests of the Congress at the third anniversary of UPA-2 and shared the dais with senior leaders and Union Ministers.
While, Mamata Banerjee may have sent the message to the Congress that they cannot dictate terms to the regional satraps anymore and that a new power axis is in the offing, the grand old party seems to have told the maverick leader that she cannot hold them to ransom anymore.
All said and done, the UPA government is lurching from one crisis to another and its credibility has taken a beating in recent times on the issues of policy paralysis, economic crisis, corruption perception, alliance problems and shoddy handling of various problems. And it can be safely said that in the present context the Presidential election has become incidental and politics has taken the centrestage. This battle for who will become the President, which should have been a routine election, has exposed the power game between the political parties and has become less about the race to Raisina Hills and more about the race to 7, Race Course Road, with an eye on 2014 General elections.
So is the snapping of ties between the Congress and the TMC inevitable? And is a mid-term poll imminent? Former PM of United Kingdom Harold Wilson once said that a week was a long time in politics. But the pace at which the race to the Raisina Hills is unfolding, it seems that even a few hours is a long time in Indian politics. As they say – watch out for this space – the soap opera is not over yet.