Presidential Poll: Trinamool, CPI-M both Losers

Kolkata, Jul 20 (IANS): Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee's dramatic U-turn to support UPA presidential candidate Pranab Mukherjee - albeit to ensure a smooth run for her cash-strapped West Bengal government - has not only been a humbling experience for her but has also derailed the Marxists' strategy of gaining from the Congress-Trinamool rift.

Hardly ever in her four-decade-old political career has Banerjee been forced to swallow such a bitter pill of political humiliation. Her volte face after her strident month-long opposition to Mukherjee's candidature took a lot of people by surprise, though it seemed to be grounded in realpolitik.

The popular perception was that the maverick leader, known for her stubbornness in political dealings, would abstain from the July 19 presidential poll. But what forced her to reverse her stand just two days before the poll is the most talked about subject in political circles now.

Those closely following her political graph are aware that her huge political ego has more often than not shaped her decisions, even if that meant committing political hara-kiri.

"What she has done by supporting Mukherjee is new to all of us. She has never before backed out in this manner after going so far on a political issue," Sabyasachi Basu Rai Chaudhuri, a veteran political scientist, told IANS.

According to political observers and leaders, Banerjee was left high and dry after being ditched by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, who held quiet parleys with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and veered to Mukherje's side after flirting with the Trinamool for a day.

Moreover, with her candidate, former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, declining to contest, "didi" (as Banerjee is popularly known) was left with two options - either supporting Mukherjee or staying away from the vote.

The option of backing Bhartiya Janata Party-led NDA candidate P.A. Sangma did not seem viable, as voting with the BJP could have hit the Trinamool's hold over the 26 percent Muslim vote in West Bengal.

In reality, Banerjee was in no position to oppose Mukherjee's candidature as that would have hurt the sentiments of the people of Bengal, who had been ga-ga over getting the first Bengali to the top job.

With the state Congress mounting pressure on alliance partner Trinamool through mass movements on various issues and the opposition Marxists trying to fish in politically troubled waters by rooting for Mukherjee, the Trinamool urgently needed to put a halt to the bonhomie between the opposition and the Congress.

"Trinamool has supported us as she became afraid after we launched an aggressive movement terming her anti-Bengali," said state Congress leader Omprakash Mishra.

But according to Basu Rai Chaudhuri, Banerjee feared that a few of her legislators and MPs would have voted for Mukherjee as the veteran congressman shares a personnel rapport with most of the Trianmool leaders.

But Trinamool leaders disagreed.

"Trinamool is a responsible and dependable ally. Our decision to support is a political decision," Trinamool leader and Panchayat Minister Subrata Mukherjee said.

With the electoral arithmetic favouring Pranab Mukherjee, opposing him would have meant burning bridges with the Congress-led central government, whose support Banerjee needs when the state is reeling under a heavy financial debt.

But although her Bihar and Uttar Pradesh counterparts had managed to squeeze out more financial and central assistance by supporting Mukherjee, Banerjee - even after supporting her "Pranabda" - seems to have eroded much of her bargaining skills.

The Congress, now emboldened with the support of both the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), can neutralise her pressure tactics that till now had forced the centre to roll back important policy initiatives.

But apart from Banerjee, the dramatic turn of events have suddenly put the Marxists - who had decided to support Mukherjee by breaking ranks with other Left Front parties and triggering ripples within their own organisation - in a tight spot as their strategy to capitalise on the Congress-Trinamool rift appears to have fallen flat.

"Suddenly it seems that the Marxists are on the losing side as for the time being their strategy to use the rift between the Congress and the Trinamool has gone for a toss," said Basu Rai Chaudhuri.

Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Prakash Karat in a signed statement had clearly stated that "the rift within the ruling alliance is something that the party took into account when deciding its stand".

However, the CPI-M leadership still claims that the decision was correct.

"The entire episode has exposed Banerjee's double standards. Our decision was taken keeping in view the Trinamool's ambition to politically wipe out the Congress in Bengal," said CPI-M central committee member Nilotpal Basu.

For the record, from the time Mukherjee was named last month as the UPA candidate for the presidential poll, it was clear he would win, the only question being the percentage of votes he would garner.

A day before the poll, Mukherjee was known to be assured of at least 60.21 percent of the vote, with opposition-backed Purno Sangma getting 31.70 votes. The remaining 8.09 percent votes were of small parties who are not represented in parliament but have legislators in state assemblies.


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