Decoder: Mamata has grown up, but Pranab-da has not

When it comes to swallowing one’s ego and making up, women seem to be willing to walk further than men.

This is one of the underlying messages coming through in Mamata Banerjee’s decision to support Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature for the presidency. Much has been made of the fact that she had no options left, and that her decision may have been forced more by pragmatic political considerations than anything else.

There is much truth to this analysis, but one should also look at the human side of the Pranab-Mamata equation, and one wonders if these did not also play a major role in Mamata’s initial antagonism to her former political mentor-turned-tormentor.

Reading between the emotion-laden lines of Mamata’s statements on Tuesday, she let it all hang out. Two things seem clear.

Pranab apparently persists in treating Mamata as his kid sister of yesteryear. Powerful men, it seems, are unable to see changes in relationships where their protégés are really more powerful than they are. PTI

One is that human beings seem incapable of accepting the fact that relationships change, that children grow up, and parents can become dependents. This is apparent in the Mamata-Pranab relationship, too. The former finance minister was too full of his own sense of being denied his due (to the prime ministership, etc) to understand that he was putting down the West Bengal CM in ways he did not recognise or understand.

Two, ego stands in the way of rapprochement. And usually men do not seem to be able to recognise when you need to make the first move. In this case, it was clearly Pranab’s move, but it was Mamata who swallowed her pride and backed him for the presidency.

It’s worth looking at Mamata’s statements closer to understand their true import.

The Bengal CM said the decision was “painful and tough”, and media reports attributed this statement to her: “We have decided to support Pranab Mukherjee keeping in mind the alliance we have with the Congress. In the interest of the people, democracy … we have decided to vote for him. We have not taken this decision from the core of our heart. We have no other option.”

Look at the pathos in the statement. A CM is acknowledging that she had no other option, and tells everyone she is hurt, but she will do what is right for her party.

Now, look at Pranab’s statement. “I welcome this decision.”

No recognition of the emotional sacrifice made by Mamata. Just a sense of glib entitlement. His statement can be read as: “You had no option to do it, so thanks, but no thanks for doing what you had to.”

Look what Mamata said about her sense of hurt when Pranab did not even acknowledge her importance in the presidential equation. “I don’t know what happened but we have not spoken to each other for the last eight months. The prime minister calls me up frequently. We do have conversations. I do have contacts with Sonia Gandhi. But I didn’t have any conversations with Pranabda. I don’t know why.”

Once again, this is nothing but a child-like seeking of parental acknowledgement. “Look, others are treating me like an adult. But not you.” But Pranab missed this nuance altogether.

Then again, there’s this direct appeal for recognition, this time based on the need for reciprocity in relationships. “When he left Congress and formed a different party, I had arranged his meeting with Rajivji when he had visited Kolkata. Again I had arranged a meeting between the two in Tripura. We were very happy after he became the finance minister in 2009.”

Hidden in this is the accusation: I have stood by you when you were down, but you haven’t.

Mukherjee’s response, according to The Indian Express: “I do not want to rake up old issues…”.

To be sure, this is a classic demonstration of the male and female way of burying the hatchet. Women seek more formal closure. Men seek to just put it behind them and forget about it. But Mukherjee clearly could have done more.

She also said: “In 2009, we were the first party to hand over the letter of support to Pranab Mukherjee. I believe it helped him gain in stature, and also helped build his bright future.” She also made the point that Pranab never paid her a visit at Kolkata’s Writers’ Buildings.

Once again, this is the point. She is saying, “I am equally entitled to respect and recognition. Look at what I have achieved in Bengal. I am CM. But you refuse to recognise my growth in stature.”

Pranab apparently persists in treating her as his kid sister of yesteryear. Or that, at any rate, is what she thinks.

Powerful men, it seems, are unable to see changes in relationships where their protégés are really more powerful than they are. Even if they know it — Pranab has been kicked upstairs for retirement while Mamata is a powerhouse in Bengal and UPA-2 — their egos don’t allow them to acknowledge it formally.

The child, they say, is the father of the man. The old Pranab-Mamata equation of mentor-and-protégé has been reversed. But Pranab is the one who has refused to grow up and understand its true import.