Its bonhomie with the Samajwadi Party (SP) back on track after the SP decided to support Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the nominee of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in the Presidential election, the Congress today described it as a “supporting ally”, albeit from outside.
“SP has always stood by us,” said Congress’ media chief, Janardan Dwivedi.
A senior Cabinet minister, looking back at the short interlude when Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief Mamata Banerjee had come together with the SP two days earlier to shoot down Mukherjee’s name, said it was a “brief aberration” caused by “miscommunication”. “The bonhomie that had been struck at the UPA high table during its third anniversary is still intact,” added the minister.
The decision to name Mukherjee was taken after party managers ensured the Congress would have 51 per cent of the vote in the electoral college. Chief ministers of Congress-ruled states, summoned yesterday, were standing by and some of them attended the UPA meeting. Member of Parliament Naresh Aggarwal and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajeev Shukla acted as intermediaries between the SP and the Congress to stitch an alliance, although Banerjee continued to insist Yadav had not deserted her. An unfazed Banerjee said late in the evening in Kolkata: “The game has just begun...We are firm on Kalam’s candidature. He is the fittest candidate. We are not shifting from our stand of what we have announced earlier... I never bow my head to anyone.”
Asked if she thought she was cheated by Yadav, she said: “I cannot say so. He is a senior politician.”
Her supporters, however, said Yadav had sought more time and wider consultation within his party when TMC MP Kunal Ghosh met him last night with a draft joint media statement, signed by Banerjee, reiterating both the parties’ support for Kalam. The TMC wanted to get the draft signed by Yadav before issuing it to the media.
Later today, when SP General Secretary Ramgopal Yadav hinted his party was reviewing its support for Kalam, Banerjee contacted SP leader Kiranmoy Nanda, who, TMC leaders claim, reiterated the SP was on the same page with the TMC on the issue. Meanwhile, sensing SP’s flip-flop, the TMC also contacted Odisha chief minister and Biju Janata Dal leader Naveen Patnaik and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar.
According to a senior TMC leader, the Bharatiya Janata Party also called Banerjee to ask whether the TMC was ready to support its other preferred candidate, P A Sangma, if Kalam refused to contest the election. She told them this would be decided only after Kalam had categorically rejected participating in the election.