New Delhi, June 17: Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh might take a hard look at future ties with Mamata Banerjee if she backs any presidential candidate fielded by the NDA, Congress sources said.
They said it wasn’t that Sonia had suddenly developed a distaste for Mamata’s combative style. The UPA chairperson accepts that “differences are unavoidable and, indeed, desirable” but also believes that individuals should not cross the “Lakshman rekha” once a collective decision has been taken, they added.
Supporting an NDA candidate against Pranab Mukherjee could, in Sonia’s mind, constitute such a breach of limit, the sources hinted. Reports from Calcutta said former Lok Sabha Speaker Purno Sangma, who is lobbying for nomination as a presidential candidate, called up Mamata today.
Congress sources also claimed that reports saying the Bengal chief minister could be in touch with Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy, known for his utter disregard for Sonia and the UPA, had left Sonia and Manmohan deeply disturbed.
Asked if he had spoken to Mamata since both of them were campaigning for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Swamy replied in the negative but said: “If the situation demands, I may come down to Calcutta in a day or two to call on Mamataji.”
Senior Congress leaders familiar with Sonia’s style of functioning said the Congress president appeared disillusioned with the Bengal chief minister.
For well over a decade, through ups and downs and serial political realignments, Sonia had been steadfast in her belief that Mamata could do what her Bengal lieutenants couldn’t: oust the Left from the state. But beyond this, she shared a personal bond with the Trinamul chief.
Her affection for Mamata had led Sonia into a rare show of emotion in public 13 years ago. Minutes after Mamata had been sworn in as an NDA minister at Rashtrapati Bhavan, she strode straight towards Sonia, seated in the front row. The two of them hugged before the startled eyes of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and others.
Then Sonia did her own impromptu act. “Congratulations,” she said, “but will you come back (to the Congress fold)?” Both realised the invite was just an emotional gesture, and Mamata gently turned away.
Mamata later repaid Sonia by helping block a proposed NDA legislation barring people of foreign origin from holding high office, mooted at one of the new government’s first cabinet meetings.
Now, however, it appears that Sonia is losing patience and that time is running out for Congress-Trinamul ties.
There is talk of the Prime Minister thinking of shifting Mukul Roy out of Rail Bhavan. If that happens, the Congress will be violating the coalition dharma, which allows an ally the right to appoint or remove heads of ministries falling in its quota.
A Congress lobby that includes several chief ministers has already begun pressuring the high command to renew ties with the Left — which automatically means dumping Mamata. A Congress chief minister told The Telegraph he had broached the subject with the party leadership.
“During the tenure of UPA I (till 2008), the Left behaved with maturity and responsibility on most occasions. Now we are being held hostage to the whims and fancies of one individual,” he said.