Bengal politics dominates presidential race (West Bengal newsletter)

June 16th, 2012 - 8:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Pranab Mukherjee Kolkata, June 16 (IANS) With a son of the soil from Bengal likely to become the country’s next president and his country-cousin politician trying to nix his chances, the race to Raisina Hill has majorly shifted to West Bengal.

Union Finance Minister and the central government’s trouble-shooter Pranab Mukherjee bagged the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) nomination for the presidential poll as state Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s manipulative and bizarre efforts to push him out of the race came a cropper.

Banerjee, who has a liking for walking on untrodden paths, took the unprecedented step of nominating an in-office prime minister, Manmohan Singh, for the president’s post and tried to put a major roadblock before Mukherjee.

Banerjee, whose Trinamool Congress is the second-largest constituent in the UPA, rushed to New Delhi at Congress chief and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s invitation Wednesday for confabulations on the coalition’s choice for the top post.

However, soon after meeting Gandhi, Banerjee hopped over to Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav’s house, and dropped a bombshell in a joint media meet with him.

The duo named Manmohan Singh along with former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and expelled Communist Party of India-Marxist leader and former Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee as their candidates for the presidency.

However, Banerjee’s efforts to form a political axis with Yadav to put pressure on the Congress to desist from nominating her bete noire Mukherjee backfired.

Her hostile stance steeled the Congress, which rejected the duo’s candidates, and opened back channel talks with Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, which backs the UPA government from outside.

Once the SP agreed to do a U-turn, the UPA nominated Mukherjee. Once the SP lost no time in extending him support, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati followed suit, and Banerjee - completely outwitted - was left isolated and sulking.

Banerjee’s move to turn her back on the Congress candidate and resurrect Abdul Kalam from retirement surprised and offended many. The state Congress alleged she hurt Bengali sentiments by rejecting Mukherjee who has been the crisis manager and the major propelling force of the two successive United Progressive Alliance governments since 2004.

No other leader from Bengal has played such pivotal role for so long a period in the central government since independence, Mukherjee’s acolytes in Bengal point out and his detractors do not disagree.

“Won’t we all Bengalis feel proud and honoured to have a Bengali as the president of the country? Why did she (Banerjee) try to hinder Mukherjee’s candidature? Why did she hurt Bengali sentiments?” Congress Lok Sabha member Adhir Chowdhury said.

It appears that Banerjee’s decision to name Somnath Chatterjee — another son of the soil — as one of three presidential choices was a calculated move to repel any criticism that she stood in the way of a fellow Bengali occupying the highest office.

However, people from the state also noted that she later endorsed Kalam as her first nominee.

“We are for Kalam. Who can be a better president than him?” Banerjee said.

She has even started a campaign on Facebook for Kalam, who is yet to give his consent to contest the presidential election.

The state Congress has gone all out to attack the Trinamool chief, while the Congress legislators wrote to Sonia Gandhi for permission to walk out of the state ministry.

The legislators also decided that henceforth, they would “ruthlessly” raise issues against the state government in the assembly.

The frosty relation between the two allies hit the lowest ebb when Banerjee, upset over the Congress’s attack on her, said the Trinamool was willing to come out of the UPA government if the Congress desired so.

However, not to be cowed by the turn of events, Banerjee, on her return to the city, said: “The game is not over yet. It is still on.”

While Banerjee was trying to play a kingmaker in Delhi, educational institutions in the state continued to be in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Five members of the Trinamool Congress Chatra Parishad, the party’s students wing, were arrested and subsequently rusticated by the Rabindra Bharati University for vandalising the vice chancellor’s office and assaulting some non-teaching staff.

(Anurag Dey can be contacted at deyvil@gmail.com)

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