The game is not over yet: Mamata Banerjee on Presidential poll



Manisha Singh

New Delhi: To say that the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee must be feeling cornered at the moment is an understatement. With Congress-led UPA government at the Centre announcing the name of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as their choice for Presidential candidate and with Samajwadi Party supremo Mulayam Singh ditching her completely on the contentious issue, the Trinamool Congress chief must be smarting at her moves gone wrong.

However, the setback has not deterred the maverick politician as after all the political drama that unfolded in the national capital on Friday surrounding the candidature for the next President of India and after she was virtually isolated as a consensus built around the name of Pranab Mukherjee, the fiery leader from West Bengal said that as far as she was concerned ‘the game was not over yet’.

While talking to reporters in Kolkata she said “Wait and watch what happens in the next few days.” However, she refused to comment on UPA’s choice for Pranab as President. As ominous as it may sound, the pertinent question is whether this is mere public posturing by Mamata Banerjee or does she have more cards up her sleeve?

The TMC chief also said that she had nothing to say about Mulayam Singh Yadav doing a U-turn on the name of Pranab for the top post of the country. ‘He is a politician’, she said dryly. The SP chief did a complete U-turn today and dumped Mamata without batting an eyelid after the grand press conference that he did with her on Wednesday when they announced the names of APJ Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh and Somanath Chatterjee as their choice for President.

Mamata along with Mulayam had also embarrassed the Congress by naming PM Manmohan Singh as a candidate for President. She had stuck to the name of Kalam as her first choice even after Congress made it clear that Pranab was their preferred choice. Mamata even left for her state refusing to attend the crucial UPA meet on Friday to zero down on a name for President.

And now with most political parties like SP and BSP backing Pranab as the next President, Kalam may not contest for the post of President. Kalam had made it clear that he will not contest if there is lack of consensus regarding his name. This has completely isolated Mamata on the one issue on which she had staked her prestige.

In this scenario, let us just examine some of the options before the TMC chief. Scenario one – she quits UPA-2 after virtually challenging the authority of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. In this case she will only benefit if there is a mid-term poll as then she may increase her tally in the next Lok Sabha. But an early election is possible only if UPA-2 falls. However, if Mamata were to leave the coalition or if the Congress throws her out, the Samajwadi Party in all likelihood will support the grand old party and join the coalition at the Centre. With Mulayam Singh Yadav completely backing Pranab as President today and leaving Mamata in the lurch, the Congress can be assured of its survival.

Also a questions that needs to be asked - Will Mamata benefit more from leaving UPA-2 now or is it more beneficial for her to remain in the government at the Centre in the present context. Remember, she needs a huge financial package from the Centre with the West Bengal exchequer in shambles, even though she does not need the Congress for numbers in Bengal. At this moment it probably makes more sense for Mamata to read the writing on the wall, swallow her pride and remain in UPA. Leaving the UPA at this juncture will only isolate her further. She did make it more than clear yesterday that she will not quit the coalition on her own and the ball was in Congress’ court. So we might just see her either abstaining from the Presidential poll or who knows even voting for the man of the moment.

There is another scenario - Congress doing away with the unpredictable ally that Mamata is. But that will lead to Congress putting all its eggs in one basket as it would have to depend on the Samajwadi Party for support at the Centre. That would be like going back to square one for the Congress as it would then have to depend on the SP to survive and the SP would in turn extract its pound of flesh. It is unlikely that the Congress would be comfortable with such a situation. It would suit them more to pitch one against the other and let both know that they are not indispensible.

Whether it has been the issue of FDI in retail, petrol price hike or the NCTC, Mamata Banerjee and the Congress have been at loggerheads for a while now. But they have made up in due course of time. But will the familiar scene be repeated this time too? Pranab has already said that Mamata is like her sister. It is said that there are neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies in politics. So is another scenario possible – a smiling Mamata Banerjee at the coronation ceremony of Pranab Mukherjee as the next President of India, i.e. if Dada wins, which at the moment seems most likely.

So is the latest salvo being fired by the unpredictable leader from West Bengal just an attempt to be brave in the face of adversity? Or are we in for a surprise...