Presidential poll: Mamata retreats,will back Pranab

Takes ‘painful decision’ after Cong made it clear alliance was on the line on matter.

Written by Express News Service | New Delhi/kolkata | Published: July 17, 2012 9:17 pm

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee today did a turnaround on the question of supporting Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential election,signalling to the Congress in New Delhi that she had opted to stay within the UPA fold till 2014.

Mamata’s surprise decision followed back-channel talks between her party and senior UPA managers,both in the government and in the Congress,especially in the past one week,with the Congress underlining that not supporting the alliance’s candidate was not the act of a partner. What gave the Congress an edge was that a number of senior Trinamool MPs were in favour of voting for Mukherjee.

However,the West Bengal Chief Minister made no efforts to hide the fact that the decision to back Mukherjee was out of coalition compulsions. “We should have been smiling today,but we are not. It is a painful decision for us but we had to take this step in the greater interest of democracy. In a democracy,it is not a good thing to abstain from voting. And if we vote,there is no other choice,” Mamata said.

The talks between the Congress and TMC culminated with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi making calls to Mamata today,after the Congress leadership sensed that they had been able to drive home their message.

Trinamool sources said the PM requested Mamata for support calling her “a valued ally” who was expected to go with the alliance’s choice. Mamata is learnt to have told the PM that she would reconsider. Later,she received a call from the Congress president.

Prior to that,the Congress had conveyed to senior TMC MPs — mainly two ministers at the Centre — that the presidential election was where the Congress drew the line for Mamata.

“If we do not vote,Pranab Mukherjee gets 50,000-plus votes. If we vote,he will have 100,000-plus votes. So this is a painful decision. Just today the Prime Minister called and requested me to support the UPA nominee. Later,I also had a talk with UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi,” Mamata said in Kolkata.

In the past few weeks,the Congress had mounted pressure on Mamata,with senior Central ministers picking up issues to publicly criticise the West Bengal government. Additionally there was talk of a major Cabinet reshuffle after the presidential election.

The interlocutors between the Centre and Mamata also enumerated a series of moves by the TMC going against the government — forcing a reversal of the Rail Budget,being on the same plank with the Opposition on the Lokpal Bill in the Rajya Sabha,and stalling a series of executive decisions at the Cabinet level.

Mamata was also given to understand that after the presidential elections,the Centre would heed the concerns raised by the West Bengal government,just as it had done in the case of Uttar Pradesh recently.

“We are not in favour of ejecting the TMC from the government. It would have had to be their decision whether or not they wanted to be part of the alliance. But we had communicated to them that not voting for the UPA nominee or even abstaining was not going to be viewed as an act of someone who wished to remain an ally,” a top UPA leader told The Indian Express.

Just like in the case of the Left parties,who were never asked to leave UPA-I but who eventually severed ties on their own after the government went ahead with the policies the Left were opposing,the UPA managers made it clear to the TMC that the government was now in a position to overcome Mamata’s opposition on several policy matters,so it was up to her to take a definite stand.

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