It is no secret that the Congress is keen to get Mamata Banerjee on board for the presidential polls, despite a rumbling from within the ranks of the ruling coalition leader to offload the West Bengal chief minister's party. Going by numbers, it is another matter that the UPA is comfortably placed to get its nominee into the Rashtrapati Bhavan -- with or without the TMC.
In fact, both the Congress and Mukherjee himself have been appealing to the TMC for its support. After Banerjee snubbed the UPA's choice of Mukherjee as the presidential candidate by proposing the name of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a candidate, Mamata has faced criticism from Congress leaders -- both at the Centre and in her native eastern state.
Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh even went public with his disapproval of Banerjee's actions, and indicated she should fall in line. The Congress's central leadership swiftly swung into action and snubbed Singh, stating he was not a party spokesperson and his views were not those of the party. Bengal Congress leaders like Adhir Chowdhury and Pradip Bhattacharya (PCC chief), too, had been vitriolic in their criticism. They even threatened to quit from the coalition government in Bengal, but were soon asked to pipe down their belligerence.
A section of the Congress's central leaders are of the view that the time has come to snap ties with Banerjee, as the 57-year-old leader seldom lost an opportunity in embarrassing their party, sometimes by even stalling crucial policy decisions.
So, why is the Congress still insisting on seeking the TMC's support? A senior Cabinet minister of that party put it thus: The Samajwadi Party is rendering only outside support to the UPA. If its leader Mulayam Singh Yadav's track record is anything to go by, then the SP can well turn out to be a fickle friend.
Offloading Banerjee in favour of Yadav might prove hasty in the long run. "In any case, we (the UPA) won't ask TMC to leave. It is they who have to take the call," he told Business Standard.
The central leadership, it seems, is not ready to call it quits as yet with Banerjee. A senior Congress leader adds that the Congress-led UPA does not want to be seen as a divided house on the matter, like the National Democratic Alliance, wherein the Janata Dal-United has not supported the candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance.
The TMC has only four per cent votes, and the UPA nominee can easily cruise onto Raisina Hill without the support of Banerjee's party.
Even so, the Congress is hopeful that she will turn around, thus aiding Mukherjee in getting an overwhelming majority.
According to senior leaders, the prime minister's assistance could be taken to mollify Banerjee. If the PM, for whom Banerjee has great respect, were to talk to her before Mukherjee visits Kolkata on July 8, then there could be chances of a turnaround in the TMC's position. The Congress feels this just may help increase the chance of a meeting between Banerjee and Mukherjee in the West Bengal capital.
Two days ago, Mukherjee had said he was not hurt by the TMC chief's refusal to support him. "I don't have any bitterness, because every political party has its own approach to a particular problem. She is, frankly speaking, entitled to hold on to her views," Mukheree said. "Because she is so young; I have no bitterness. I have seen her grow up before my eyes. Whatever she has achieved, it is her own achievement. She single-handedly fought and achieved whatever she has achieved today."Whether Banerjee chooses to abstain or whether she is mollified sufficiently to join ranks with the UPA and its nominee, the result could have significant repercussions on the future of the UPA-2 coalition.