Kolkata, 17 Jul 2012: Mamata Banerjee said on Tuesday that she would support Pranab Mukherjee for President because there was no other option. She said she would also vote for Hamid Ansari for the vice presidential post since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "called me even today requesting ... "
Mamata’s announcement at Writers’ is a vote of confidence of sorts for the UPA as the leader of the estranged ally, the second largest at that, kept saying, "Let’s forget and forgive."
The chief minister convened the press conference after meeting some of her MLAs and MPs. She harped on the "coalition dharma" and said no other compulsion, "no financial deal" but people’s interest alone had forced her party to take the call.
The Trinamool Congress chief’s announcement on the presidential election came a day ahead as she pre-scheduled her decision-making meeting with her party colleagues. The announcement, a Trinamool leader, revealed was to avoid further speculation on the issue.
Her hurry gave away the desperation to wriggle out of a situation where the Trinamool supremo seemed politically isolated. (Rebel MP Kabir Suman is openly batting for Mukherjee).
Mamata had been buying time on the issue, knowing that her strategy backfired from Day 2 when she had been dumped by her partner ( Mulayam Singh Yadav) who agreed to back the UPA presidential candidate.
She put up a brave front insisting on Kalam, even before the former President had decided whether he wished to contest. Over the last one month, as the state Congress leaders jeered and the UPA high command remained politely cold, that she almost came to a point of no-return with the UPA, whom she had repeatedly held to ransom over major policies, including the Teesta water sharing.
Before dropping the bombshell on Tuesday, the chief minister gave a extensive prelude to explaining what led to her support for Mukherjee, saying "We have opposed the rise in petrol prices. We shall oppose FDI in retail. We have always said no on issues which we had strongly felt about right from the time we inked our poll manifesto. We shall continue to do so in future. But for the sake of democracy and coalition compulsion, we have decided to extend our support for the presidential candidate."
She said, "We wish we could have taken the decision with a smile. But we don’t want our 50,000 votes to be wasted via abstention."
The chief minister made it clear that the former finance minister is a poor second choice.
"We thought APJ Abdul Kalam was more suited. We also think Krishna Bose is a good candidate for vice-president. But Kalam chose not to contest. So there were only two left for the president. One was Pranabda and the other was Sangma, who is not even an NDA candidate. He has the BJP’s and some other party’s support."
The chief minister added, "Given the two choices, " to vote with UPA or BJP and other parties," we had to see whether to vote at all, or who to vote for. So, we will vote for Pranab Mukherjee."
Replying to questions from reporters, the chief minister said, "We are not supporting him individually. It’s a political decision. Also, he is from Bengal. Even if we don’ts support him, he will get the votes. So might as well vote for him. This is the only option where we can apply our voting rights."
She initially avoided replies on whether to support UPA candidate Hamid Ansari for a second term as vice-president. "here is still time. His election will be held in August."
But then she added, "We shall support him. That’s the Prime Minister’s request."
Mamata said she had called the Prime Minister in the afternoon and conveyed her decision.