New Delhi, June 18: The UPA is seeking to use the opportunity gifted by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to persuade Mamata Banerjee to abandon the path of confrontation and gently nudge P.A. Sangma to opt out of the presidential race.
Sonia Gandhi today got the Congress to snub general secretary Digvijaya Singh through the unusual medium of a bulk text message after he described Mamata as “erratic” in an interview and referred to her “tantrums”.
The AICC this morning sent out an SMS that said: “Kind attention: Digvijaya Singh is not officially authorised to speak on behalf of the party.”
Asked about the SMS, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari left few in doubt on who took the initiative to send the blunt message: “Such messages are sent only under the party leadership’s instruction.”
Congress leaders said they do not want the situation to continue in which the strongest UPA ally leads the fight against their presidential candidate, Pranab Mukherjee.
Sources said the Congress leadership might pull out all stops to mollify Mamata and get her to back Mukherjee. Apart from the imperative to keep the UPA intact, Congress leaders want to avoid a situation when the first Bengali candidate for the highest post is opposed by the biggest party and leader of his home state.
Sonia, who was believed to have been upset with Mamata last Wednesday, may take the initiative herself and reach out to the Trinamul leader for support, the sources said.
Mukherjee, too, in all likelihood will call on Mamata and seek her support when he is next in Calcutta. With the presidential poll a month away, the Congress is determined to do all it can to assuage Mamata’s feelings and get her on board, the sources said.
After the Trinamul meeting in Calcutta this evening, Congress spokesperson Tewari emphasised: “The question of a pullout is based on a presumption that we want her out. We do not.”
Bengal AICC in-charge Shakeel Ahmed also said: “Mamata Banerjee and the Congress will continue to be allies. We will work together.”
The Congress leadership, which had several times in the past distanced itself from Digvijaya’s remarks, couldn’t wait for the regular media briefing in the evening to clarify as “Sonia was livid at Digvijaya’s views on Mamata, the Vice-President and the choice of the next finance minister”, sources said.
In response to queries, the Congress spokesperson took positions on Mamata and the Vice-President that directly contradicted Digvijaya’s arguments during an interview.
While Digvijaya criticised Mamata’s penchant for throwing tantrums and suggested she had crossed the limit, the official spokesperson said: “Mamata is a valued ally and we hope that she will support Mukherjee who described her as a sister.”
On the question of the Vice-President, Digvijaya indicated a preference for Hamid Ansari while Tewari said “no consultation had taken place on this issue”. The Congress does not want to commit on Ansari as both Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mamata are opposed to him.
Digvijaya had said about Mamata: “All efforts have been made to console her, accept her views, accept her tantrums.… Beyond a certain limit, the decision is hers.… There is a limit to which you can bend.”
The Congress cannot own up Digvijaya’s views as this would mean an open confrontation with Mamata. The Congress leadership does not want to adopt the politically unwise course of driving her out of the coalition. The Congress gains little by forcing her to leave ahead of the 2014 general election when she still enjoys enormous electoral clout.
The party’s media department chairperson said “the best is yet to be” in the hope that Mamata would ultimately support Mukherjee. That explains the alacrity with which Digvijaya’s statement was denounced.
On the other front, buoyed by Kalam’s refusal to lock horns with Mukherjee, top UPA sources expressed confidence that Sangma, too, would eventually bow out.
Although Sangma has stuck to his guns so far, a key leader involved in the management of UPA’s presidential campaign said: “Don’t forget the election is on July 19, exactly a month away, which is a far too long period in politics. The stakes are so high that Sangma will ultimately be forced to withdraw.”
Sangma’s party, the NCP, is confident of managing the crisis without any significant damage. Party spokesperson D.P. Tripathi said: “Sangma is a very responsible person and he has told me and Sharad Pawar that he would abide by the party’s wishes. The party’s wish is clear as we have supported Mukherjee’s candidature.”