Prez polls: Mamata’s political instincts trump her bravado

Tantrum Queen? Yes. But there’s a politician’s brain ticking inside Mamata Banerjee.

Her support to Pranab Mukherjee was not entirely unexpected. Forget all that drama preceding the decision. She sought to bargain hard with the UPA for financial concessions for her state. Her tactic was to throw a scare in the Congress-led formation’s camp, first by pitching hard for former President APJ Abdul Kalam and then by toying with the idea of backing the NDA’s candidate Purno Sangma. But the Congress proved smarter.

PTI

After Kalam refused to contest and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh parted with her quickly after forming a joint front, she had no options left. For all that bravado, she is not in a position to part ways with the UPA right now. She realises it is politically disastrous to be in inimical terms with the Centre at this point. The NDA is still not a stable alternative and supporting a candidate propped up by parties such as the BJD and the AIADMK did not make much sense.

What would have weighed on her mind most is the political impact of her decision not to support Pranab in her state. He is the first potential president from the state and this fact carries a lot of sentimental heft among people. Had she not backed him, she would have left a lot of people disappointed and angry. Political rival CPM would certainly have made political capital of the issue and the Congress in the state would not have been too kind to her. At this juncture, where she does not have much to show in terms of achievements, she cannot afford to be unpopular.

Moreover, there were chances that members of her own party, Trinamool Congress, would not have backed her decision to oppose Pranab with enthusiasm. The relations between Pranab and many of them go back a long way. The rapport is more at the personal level than at the political level. In a secret ballot, it was possible that some of them would have gone against the party diktat to vote for him. This would have left Mamata in an embarrassing position.

Now the big question: does she have enough scope to leverage her strength with numbers to arm-twist the UPA any more? With the SP and the BSP firmly in the UPA fold, it does not look that way. The Congress does not need her numbers to get the presidential or vice-presidential candidates elected. It could be acting polite at this point, but once the elections are over, it could turn aggressive. Mamata has landed the party in enough embarrassment in recent times and it would be itching to get back at her.

The Trinamool Congress is aware of the changing equations. Mamata’s statement before the media made it amply clear. "We took a unanimous decision for the larger interest of coalition dharma and state...(I would) now request everyone to bury the hatchet. Whatever has happened, happened. It is known to you and me,’’ she said, adding there are times when decisions have to be taken for the larger interest of the people, the state and democracy.

It is interesting that she would think of coalition dharma now. Her call to everybody to bury the hatchet is also curious. Clearly, she wants to mend fences with the Congress. Her personal equations with Pranab Mukherjee have been turbulent. That she was willing to forget it signals that she has stopped being her emotional self and is being pragmatic. She has not made her decision on the vice-president election clear but the Congress would not bother about that too much. It holds the aces now.

But for all you know, it could be a temporary truce. Such compromises don’t go with the character of the Mamata we know. She might still give the government a tough time.