June 18: The Trinamul Congress has laid down an immediate agenda: make A.P.J. Abdul Kalam feel wanted despite his refusal to run for President again and figure out if the party is “unwanted” by the Congress.
If the answer to the second question is in the affirmative, Trinamul has set a “two-minute” deadline to pull out of the central coalition.
“We never want to leave the government in trouble. But if the Congress leadership feels that we are unwanted in the UPA, we won’t hesitate to leave the government as well as the UPA,” Trinamul MP and Union minister Sudip Bandopadhyay said after a meeting between Mamata Banerjee and her MPs and MLAs at Calcutta’s Town Hall this evening.
He said the Trinamul ministers at the Centre would put in their papers whenever instructed by Mamata. “We, the Union ministers, won’t take two minutes to put in our papers, if the Congress feels that we are unwanted in the government,” Bandopadhyay said.
On Kalam, Trinamul said it would continue to try and convince the former President to reconsider his decision not to contest the presidential election as “a people’s candidate”.
The Telegraph had reported on Monday that Kalam was expected to issue a statement today saying he would not contest.
Kalam said his “conscience” was not permitting him to enter the fray. Despite the personal intervention of L.K. Advani and two visits by the BJP leader’s former aide Sudheendra Kulkarni, Kalam refused to oblige the NDA and Mamata. ( )
The former President profusely thanked those who reposed faith in him and said he was overwhelmed by the support and respected it. But he added: “I have considered the totality of this matter and the present political situation, and decided not to contest the presidential election 2012.”
In a post on Facebook, Mamata expressed hurt. “Kalam Saheb, you have touched our hearts and our spirit. I have seen your statement that you are not contesting. This news has hurt all of us deeply,” she said.
The post attributed to Mamata went on to refer to “underhand dealings” and spoke almost like a member of Team Anna, for which she had shown little inclination earlier.
“In these trying and difficult times, public trust in the political class and institutions is under serious stress. There is a lack of faith of the common people in political entities who partake in rampant corruption and underhand dealings. Some self-seeking politicians have discarded all ethics and thereby have alienated themselves from the people.
“I have unshakeable belief in the indomitable will of the people of my country. They will rise to cleanse Indian politics and bring back honesty, values and ethics,” the post said.
Minister Bandopadhyay said after the Trinamul meeting: “We still believe that Dr Kalam will be the best President of the country. The country can hold its head high because of his efficiency and transparency. We will try to convince him to contest the election.”
Asked what if Kalam sticks to his decision, Bandopadhyay said: “We will wait till the last day of submitting nomination papers. After that, we will hold another meeting to decide our next step.”
Asked whether Trinamul will support P.A. Sangma, he said: “We have to wait till the last date of filing nominations. I can say that appropriate steps will be initiated at an appropriate time. Our MPs and MLAs will be asked to cast their votes according to the decision that will be taken unanimously.”
Some Trinamul insiders feel the party will abstain from voting, fearing cross-voting if Mamata continued to oppose Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature.
A good number of Trinamul MPs and MLAs trace their political roots to the Congress and share a good rapport with Mukherjee. Since the ballot is secret, it will be near impossible for most parties to establish who broke ranks.
“The best thing to do, if our leader refuses to change her mind, is to abstain. Then, if any party members turn up to vote, they can be identified,” pointed out a Trinamul leader.
Names of potential cross-voters are already doing the rounds. Some pointed out that they would not like to be remembered “for not voting” in favour of the first President from Bengal.
Asked if Mamata would budge on Mukherjee, one MLA hoped against hope: “Didi is a very emotional politician. She might appear fiery from outside but is a very soft person. She can be assuaged if the Congress and Pranabda reach out to her and give her respect.”
But others ruled out a rethink, saying Mamata might even field another Muslim candidate if Kalam stuck to his stand.
A Trinamul MLA present at the meeting said Mamata had explained why she had opposed Mukherjee’s candidature. “She said the Trinamul government in Bengal had repeatedly urged the Union finance minister to help the state get rid of its huge debt burden. But nothing was done over the past one year. In a situation like this, it was tough for the party to support Mukherjee. Instead, Dr Kalam’s name was put forward because of his clean image,” he said.
Union minister Sultan Ahmed and state minister Subrata Mukherjee were among the more vocal speakers.
“We stand by Mamata for backing Kalam. Her opposition to Pranabbabu’s candidature is a step in the right direction because Pranabbabu always maintains a good rapport with the CPM, our arch political adversary,” a Trinamul source quoted Ahmed as saying at the meeting.
Subrata felt that Mamata’s “choice of Kalam as a presidential nominee despite his unwillingness to contest deserves praise”.