Calcutta, July 17: Mamata Banerjee today announced her “painful decision” to vote for Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential election, seeking to cut her losses once it became clear she was “left with no other option”.
“We will vote for Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential election. It is a painful decision. I am finding it difficult to accept it. It was a difficult one for us. I cannot smile while I am saying this,” the chief minister told reporters at Writers’ Buildings.
Displaying signs of the nimble-footed political instincts that had often bailed her out of adversity, the Trinamul chief conceded that she had run out of options. “For the sake of coalition politics, the people, the state and democracy we have taken this decision. There was no other option before us,” she said.
The media conference was convened at short notice after Mamata met party leaders at Writers’ this afternoon. After the 30-minute session, Mamata walked out of her chamber to announce the decision.
Mamata explained why she had no option but to vote for Mukherjee. “We could have abstained. Or we had the option of voting for Pranabda or P.A. Sangma. If we didn’t vote, that would not have made much difference. If we vote for Pranabda, he gains the 50,000 votes that we have. I feel that for the larger interest, we have to vote in his favour,” Mamata said.
Trinamul sources said Mamata was clear that she could not vote for Sangma as she did not want to be seen voting along with the BJP.
Mamata’s decision means that Trinamul voters and those of the Left will vote for the same candidate. The CPM’s support for Mukherjee played a role in prompting Mamata to go with the UPA and reduce chances of a renewal of contact between the Congress and the Left.
Before stepping out of her chamber, Mamata had already dialled the Prime Minister who could not attend her call. But Manmohan Singh called back, following which Mamata informed him of her decision and the Prime Minister thanked her. Calls from Sonia Gandhi and the presidential candidate would follow.
“I have been in touch with the Prime Minister and also Soniaji. She knew my mind,” Mamata said. “He asked me whether we would support Pranabda. I told him ‘you will be happy to know that we have decided to support him’. He was very happy.”
Mamata, whose clout in the UPA is under stress after the presidential poll manoeuvres drove Mulayam Singh Yadav closer to the Congress, sought to shed her image as the trouble-maker-in-chief. “We have not struck any deal. This is for the sake of coalition politics,” she said.
Trinamul sources said compulsions of running the state government had also forced Mamata’s hand. “By supporting Pranabda, Mamata has shown that she is committed to the UPA,” said a senior Trinamul minister.
Sources in Delhi said the Centre might offer a financial package but that would be out of concern over the state of affairs in Bengal and not because of any quid pro quo deal.
The chief minister tried to address criticism that she had allowed her personal preferences to stand in the way of a Bengali becoming the President for the first time. Mukherjee is “Banglar manush. So, I took this opportunity to vote for him”, Mamata said.
She insisted that her initial choice of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was correct but he did not agree to contest because of “political non-co-operation”.
The presidential load off her mind, Mamata retreated to her chamber to paint flowers on canvas.