It is 21 versus 19. In Indian politics, where numbers matter more than principles or political ideology, Mamata Banerjee's moves are being checkmated by the Congress party by the deft handling of Mayawati, supremo of the Bahujan Samaj Party.
On Tuesday afternoon Mamata Banerjee moved a step backward to vote for Pranab Mukherjee, after she was put in a no-win situation by the Congress moving swiftly to cut a deal with Mayawati.
Banerjee's stand against Pranab Mukherjee's candidature for the presidential election was considered a setback for the Congress because it showed the fissures in the ruling United Progressive Alliance.
It was clearly an anti-Congress move also, not just an anti-Pranab move, by Banerjee, a fellow Bengali.
But, Mamata changed her stand because the Congress and Mukheree, at different levels, worked hard to make her understand that the 'Vote for Pranab' is a win-win situation.
Many of her own party leaders think she may not have been left with any choice. The issue is not, to vote or not to vote for Pranabda but the issue is, what does the Trinamool gain out of not voting for Pranabda?
She is "losing" in either situation, says a dissenter from her party. She is not gaining anything by not voting for Mukherjee. The way the situation has unfolded, she has not been able to explain her decision as a principled stand, he argues.
Her party has 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha while Mayawati has 21.
It is now amply clear that the UPA government is not going to rock even if the Trinamool doesn't vote for Mukherjee in line with the UPA.
A senior minister said, "Pranabda's election has opened two small window for the Congress to deal with the JD-U and CPM in 2014. That's a concrete gain in spite of Mamata's stubborn stand against the UPA's decision."
The Congress has secured Mulayam Singh Yadav's 22 Samajwadi Party MPs and Mayawati's 21 MPs to cross the majority mark and make Mukherjee's stake safe. That makes Mamata dispensable to the UPA.
Mamata's importance within the UPA has been reduced more due to Mayawati's additional, unconditional and full support to the UPA from outside. Mayawati is helping the Congress to keep Mulayam's support to the government "less costly." Mayawati doesn't want the Lok Sabha election earlier than scheduled -- in 2014 -- as Mamata does. Mamata and Mayawati have opposing political agendas.
The way the Congress has patched up with Mayawati and the way the latter has been feeling rejuvenated after getting a favourable judgment from the Supreme Court in the disproportionate assets case, the Congress is planning to go ahead and change the terms of politics in the short term. The contradiction and rivalry in Uttar Pradesh cannot take them long, obviously.
At this point we must note that the Congress is trying to repair a lot of damage done in recent times.
First and foremost, the Congress believes that "the 2G cases have lost steam." The 2G scam or the cases are not bothering the Congress anymore. That has brought vitality into Home Minister P Chidambaram's political career who is facing the heat in the Central Bureau of Investigation court. He is shifting to finance very soon.
Second, and importantly, the Congress is planning to inject young blood into the Cabinet to improve its image.
The acute paucity of talent and experience among the Congress's 207 elected Lok Sabha members has made the choice of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh difficult. There are any number of top posts in the government but there are not enough people with a political eye, capacity for administration and brilliance required to run the show. Mukerhee's exit from the Cabinet has, once again, reminded the party of the acute void of talented leaders. The Congress's organisational reshuffle is on the cards but it will be taken up whenever Rahul Gandhi decides to enter at some juncture, as Digvijaya Singh has said.
It seems certain that Prime Minister Singh will be able to take substantial economic decisions as Chidambaram and the PM are much closer in their thinking on economic reforms than Mukherjee and Dr Singh were. Dr Singh had day-to-day difficulties with Pranabda who dominated the decision-making process. Once he took a decision, nobody questioned it, not even the PM, says a Cabinet minister who dealt daily with Pranabda.
Now, quite late in the day, the Congress has got the confidence to move ahead with few decisions that would be certainly opposed by Mamata.
The Congress's assessment is that Banerjee will leave the UPA when she gets a popular political cause to turn martyr.
In the current situation, the Trinamool can vote along with the NDA only if Mamata wants to leave the UPA on July 19. That doesn't seem to be the case because it's hurting her more than the UPA or the Congress. That's why she says now, why waste the vote?
Mayawati and Mulayam have lent short-term stability to the UPA and that has taken away Mamata's trump card of keeping up pressure on the government. The serious economic situation of West Bengal, the Congress's patch-up with Mayawati and the media's focus against her are worrying her party members. The Congress's wily politics of handling regional parties has forced Mamata to bend.
Note: This is an updated version of what was published earlier in the day