In the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections, Mamata made Pranab Mukherjee work for her support. Many would have taken her support for him for granted, considering the fact that they hailed from the same state and had shared a sibling-like bond. But Mamata had not forgotten the betrayal she faced exactly two decades ago. Even though Pranab continued to deny having orchestrated her defeat in the West Bengal organizational elections, Mamata felt that she had lost out on the WBPCC presidency because Pranab wanted Somen Mitra to win. She was convinced that the wily politician had backstabbed her when she had relied on his support. It was time to make him sweat, and Mamata kept him guessing till the very last minute.
On 13 June 2012, Mamata met Sonia Gandhi. A day earlier she had met Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav too at his Delhi residence. ‘Later, Sonia Gandhi told me that Mamata had flagged off to her the names of two potential UPA nominees for the presidential election: Hamid Ansari and myself,’ Pranab writes in his book. Mamata told the Congress chief that she would discuss with Mulayam and get back to her. But she did no such thing. After her discussion with Mulayam, the duo defiantly proposed three names for the post of President at a press conference—A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh and Somnath Chatterjee. They had the cheek to propose incumbent prime minister Manmohan Singh’s name as one of the three presidential candidates and this did not go unnoticed by the Congress party bigwigs.
‘We are for Kalam,’ Mamata declared even after the Congress rejected the three names. She had met Mulayam for the third time in forty-eight hours. ‘Kalam is our candidate. Mulayam is with me on this [ . . . ] We want a consensus on Kalam.’ Mamata went a step further and instigated the ruling coalition by saying that if the UPA’s presidential candidate loses, it should consider mid-term polls. She refused to attend the UPA meeting called by Sonia to agree upon a consensus candidate. Mamata was leaving the capital for Kolkata but was she also leaving the coalition? ‘We have not left the UPA. If they don’t want [us], the choice is with the Congress [ . . . ] We don’t want to topple the government,’ Mamata said.
Mamata’s decision to not inform Sonia Gandhi and instead make a public statement had ‘dismayed’ the latter. ‘On 14 June, I went to meet Sonia Gandhi and had a long discussion with her,’ says Pranab. ‘I found her to be in a decisive mood. She told me about her meeting with Mamata Banerjee. She was dismayed that Mamata had not informed us about her decision after meeting with Mulayam Singh Yadav and instead, had disclosed information to the media.’
Sonia may have been momentarily perturbed by the actions of her allies, especially Mamata, whom she was always fond of. Mamata had been a favourite of her late husband, Rajiv Gandhi, and she too had shared a warm relationship with the firebrand politician in the years to follow. But with this decision of hers, Mamata had fired a salvo at the Congress party and at its chief. And Sonia was not going to take it lying down.
Excerpted from Shutapa Paul’s Didi: The Untold Mamata Banerjee with permission from Penguin.