Calcutta, June 21: Pranab Mukherjee’s weekend visit to Bengal from tomorrow has opened up the possibility of a meeting with Mamata Banerjee here on Saturday night after he returns from a trip to his ancestral home in Birbhum.
“We are hopeful of a meeting between Mamataji and Pranabda during his Bengal visit,” the Congress leadership’s man in charge of Bengal affairs, Shakeel Ahmed, told The Telegraph from Delhi.
“Despite her opposition to Pranabda’s candidature for President, Mamataji has always been our valued ally at the Centre and in Bengal. I have high regard for her... (Congress-Trinamul ties) have not been strained at all as is being projected.”
Railway minister Mukul Roy said he was not aware of any such “scheduled meeting” but another Trinamul leader did not rule out one, given Mamata’s “mercurial nature”.
“It is possible that, given her mercurial nature, she might meet Pranabda at the last moment,” the Mamata aide said.
Trinamul sources, however, ruled out any rethink by Mamata on Mukherjee’s candidature following today’s CPM decision to vote for the UPA nominee. “Trinamul cannot vote along with the CPM. They are our number one political enemy,” a party source said.
Nor can Mamata back Sangma, they said, since the BJP has announced its support for him. “At no cost would Mamata want to be seen on the same side as the BJP and risk alienating Bengal’s large Muslim population,” a senior minister said.
So, if the meeting took place at all, Mamata might say her party would abstain from voting “as her chosen candidate, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, has decided not to contest”, Trinamul sources said.
“That will mean that neither of her positions — on Mukherjee and on not rocking the UPA II boat — would be affected,” a party leader said.
Shakeel hinted that the subjects to be discussed at the proposed meeting could include a “bailout package” for Bengal — the denial of which has been a key reason for Mamata’s opposition to Mukherjee’s candidature.
“This is the last time Pranabda will be visiting Bengal as Union finance minister. So, Mamata could use the meeting to persuade him to release the bailout package for the debt-ridden state. We are sending feelers to her about this,” Shakeel said.
But a Trinamul MP said the CPM’s support for Mukherjee had changed the situation.
“That was the main dispute. Mamatadi feels that Mukherjee has been the main obstacle to the financial package demanded by her. There was a possibility of a rethink had the Centre offered some package but now that the CPM is supporting Mukherjee, this possibility is non-existent,” the MP said.
Sources said Mamata had asked her MPs and MLAs to stay in Calcutta close to the polling date, implying “she might go for last-minute consultations before the election”.
The Congress leadership’s “appease Mamata” line today forced state unit chief Pradip Bhattacharya into an about-turn days after advocating a snapping of ties with Trinamul.
“There is no denying that some of us got agitated over Mamata’s opposition to Pranabda’s candidature. We did hold a public meeting to criticise her. But this is all in the past now,” Bhattacharya said.
“At this moment, we call upon Mamata to meet Pranabda, particularly after he has referred to her as a ‘sister’ while seeking her co-operation as presidential nominee.”
Mukherjee will arrive in Calcutta tomorrow, leave for his ancestral home in Mirati on Saturday morning and return to Calcutta around 9pm. The next morning he will visit Belur Math around 11am before leaving for Delhi.