Calcutta, June 13: Theirs was the political rivalry to end all political rivalries. That a CPM candidate could be defeated in the 1980s from Jadavpur was not even in the realm of imagination. A wisp of a girl took up the gauntlet only because the Congress could not find a willing victim. The rest, as they say, is the stuff of history.
Somnath Chatterjee, the twice winner of the Lok Sabha seat, was so upset that for years he refused to mention her name.
Not wholly without reason.
Young Mamata Banerjee beat Somnath Chatterjee by 19,660 votes and then touched his feet to seek his blessings.
For the first time in his then 55-year-old life, the barrister was speechless. Not even the legendary Asoke Sen was able to do that.
The bitterness blossomed over the years. Somnath blamed his defeat on the vernacular press rather than on a resurgent Congress.
There was an element of Kane and Abel in this struggle. Son of a reputable lawyer, he was to the manner born, had a ‘propah’ upbringing, went to England to study law. She was the true subaltern, a wretched of the soil if there was one.
In the Kane and Abel bestseller, Abel never got a chance to bury the past with Kane. Now Mamata has seized that chance which has much more possibilities than mere feel-good.
Somnath may or may not become President or Vice-President but away from the frenzied political head-banging in Delhi emerged a stunning chapter that can rival the plot perfected by Jeffrey Archer.
Mamata has always been a mistress of surprise. If a Bengali is to be the choice, let it be the better Bengali. A dada to beat another dada, she seemed to be suggesting when she proposed the name of “Somnath Chatterjeeji” this evening.
Whatever the outcome of her gambit, she can hope to score some propaganda points. If not Pranab Mukherjee, Mamata still would have fought for a Bengali to be sent to Raisina Hill, where Rashtrapati Bhavan is situated. Such a perception is unlikely to hurt her politics in Bengal.
Mamata can also say she has risen above party politics. Somnath, her first opponent in electoral politics, retains his CPM legacy even if he is still an outcast in the party.
If the CPM opposes Somnath, who has been expelled from the party, it will give Mamata another propaganda advantage. The CPM said tonight it had not yet made up its mind.
Not that the shrewd politician in Mamata has not smelt other opportunities. She was always keen to scuttle Pranab’s chances — it is not only about Pranab being difficult on Mamata’s demand for a Bengal rescue package. She suspects Pranab of being her enemy. Also, President Pranab could mean a leg-up for the Congress in Bengal — a prospect Mamata can’t relish.
The underlying motive in proposing Somnath’s name is definitely Bengal politics, as with every move by Mamata.
After Mamata became chief minister last year, she had visited Somnath’s house in Calcutta to exchange pleasantries, although the former Lok Sabha Speaker had campaigned for CPM candidates Gautam Deb and Fuad Halim in the run-up to the 2011 Assembly polls.
Somnath told The Telegraph from London tonight: “I got to hear of it from the media that Mamata had proposed my name for the President’s job. I am very surprised by this development. But I was more surprised to learn that my name figured in the No. 3 position in the presidential race. I wouldn’t say anything beyond this now.”
Distance appears to have caused some confusion. In the melee that passed off as a media conference, Mamata had clarified that three names were mentioned at random and there was no preference.
Asked whether he was agreeable to a contest, Somnath added: “I never went to anybody to seek my candidature for the President’s office. I don’t know who (political parties) has how many votes. I have not calculated how many votes would be needed. So, I would say, all this is too speculative and premature… too early to say now.’’
The CPM said it would firm up its stand after talking to its allies once the Congress announces its candidate. “Our Left partners, Forward Bloc, RSP and CPI, don’t want to support a Congress candidate. But our party hasn’t taken any decision as yet. Let the Congress announce… then we will talk to our allies,’’ a CPM central committee leader said tonight.