Tuesday 19 March 2013

Why is Mamata Banerjee playing games with Pranab babu?

More than two months ago, I wrote that Pranab Mukherjee will be India’s next President. I continue to stand by that statement. What I will do is to try and provide a perspective on what is happening and why.

Pranab babu wants to be President of India. Unless he can become the Prime Minister. In which case, he will give up his Presidential ambitions to move into 7 RCR. Mamata knows this and the game plan is to confuse the hell out of everyone by coming up with these 3 names for President.

Mamata does not like Pranab babu, not in the least bit. She sees him as a CPIM stooge. His previous elections to the Rajya Sabha happened because of help from the CPIM. I know of one occasion when Dhirubhai Ambani called Jyoti babu to get Pranab babu the surplus votes that the Left front had after getting their own nominees elected.

Grateful that he was to the Left for their support through the years, Pranab babu did the CPIM a great service by keeping Mamata out of an alliance with the Congress for as long as he could. The left has been scared only of Mamata but they also knew that so long as Mamata was with the BJP, they had nothing to worry about. Whenever a disenchanted Mamata sent feelers to the Congress, she would be rebuffed at the prompting of Pranab babu who made her leaving the BJP a condition precedent to any talks of cooperation. The BJP gaver her a foothold at the national level and she knew that she would be weakened in her negotiations with the Congress if she dropped the BJP first. Pranab babu exploited this to the hilt and used this to get the High Command to keep Mamata at arms length and making it clear to her that she should dissociate herself from the BJP.

When Karat pulled the rug from under the Congress’ feet, Pranab babu’s efforts to keep Mamata at bay came a cropper. Pranab babu’s adversaries in the Bengal Congress managed to get the ears of 10 Janpath, it also helped that Mamata had by then had started distancing herself from the BJP. An alliance was struck and the CPIM was decimated, the Left buried.

Mamata holds Pranab babu personally responsible for allowing the Left one term more than what she though they would get. She used to call the Congress, the B team of the CPIM and Pranab Babu its captain.

Her pleasure comes from causing Pranab babu pain. She knows that she cannot stop his becoming the President. But she knows that he wants to be PM. But having learned his lesson from his previous blunders when he flaunted his ambition, he will not reveal his cards this time around. He wants to be president, but he wants to be PM even more. Of course he is tired and wants to ride away into the sunset which is what moving to Rashtrapati Bhavan would be about. But if there is even a remote chance of becoming PM, he would not want to give that up. Over the last year, he has been the target of barbs by Chidambaram for which he blames the PM, he is livid about that. So what if he says he is tired and wants some R & R. Narasimha Rao had retired from politics when the prospect of occupying the PM’s chair allowed him to stage a miraculous recovery never recorded before in the annals of medical science.

Mamata knows this and is playing with him. If she can convince him to believe that Manmohan Singh is an acceptable alternative and if she can rally other parties around Singh, not to mention congressmen who have begun to view Singh as a liability, she would have won the battle. This morning’s papers have industry leaders talking about the missing leader at PMO. All of this works to Mamata’s advantage. But Sonia Gandhi does not trust Pranab babu and that is a real problem. She cannot allow him to be PM but she also knows that she cannot do without him in the government. It is a real quandary she is in. At the same time, she cannot also ignore the cries from her own party for a leadership change.

Can the Congress not show Mamata the middle finger and get its way. It can. But with less than 2 years to Lok Sabha elections, the Congress can ill afford to antagonise its allies. The formation of a thrd front will hurt the Congress the most and tit would be stupid for them to drive their own allies away to join a new formation. The BJP will gain. So, the need for consultations and the need to look like they are trying to arrive at a consensus.

In the meanwhile, Pranab babu may have made Mamata’s position more rigid by reaching out to Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. People who think Mamata will be under pressure to support Pranab babu as he is a Bengali are wrong because the argument will be turned around by Mamata who will shout that he is of no help to Bengal when he is loath to sanction the rescue package she is asking for. That argument will not work.

Where does all this leave Pranab babu? He must know how it felt for Trishanku, i guess.

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