Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and West Bengal Chief Minister
Mamata Banerjee have never quite gelled, despite their apparent
show of bonhomie from time to time.
The former has the image of a shrewd and seasoned administrator -
comfortable both in diplomatic debates and calculative political
dialogues to defuse crises. The other is instinctive and
unpredictable, often seeming to lack in sophistication, and more
adept in aggressive political fights and pressure games.
The two are as different as chalk and cheese.
So when Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief, went all out to
nix Mukherjee's chances of making it to Raisina Hill, it did not
come as a surprise to political leaders who have been witness to
the ebb and tide of relations between the two.
A front-ranking state Congress leader described as "rank jealousy"
Banerjee's animosity to Mukherjee becoming president. "She wants
to carve out a niche for herself as a Bengali. She thinks she is
the only sun in West Bengal, and does not want anyone to occupy
any important slot from the state. She thinks she will be
eclipsed. It is her mindset which is at play," said Congress MP
Another state Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra pointed out that
it was Pranab Mukherjee who ensured Banerjee got the Congress
ticket to contest her maiden Lok Sacha election from the Jadavpur
constituency in 1984. "At that time, she was a Subrata Mukherjee
loyalist. And Pranabda was Subrata's mentor."
"In later years also, he has been very accommodative of Banerjee.
Both in 2001 and 2009, when Banerjee's Trinamool aligned with the
Congress, it was Mukherjee who accommodated her hugely by giving a
large chunk of seats," he said.
However, a Trinamool Congress leader claimed that it was Mukherjee
who has always been "extremely jealous" of Banerjee's mass appeal.
"Mukherjee maybe a statesman, but he has never been a mass leader.
In fact he won his first direct election from Jangipur Lok Sabha
seat in Murshidabad district only eight years back, after having
spent nearly four decades in politics.
"He has never had any base of his own in the state, unlike
Banerjee who has always had a huge mass following. Mukherjee has
never taken this in the right spirit," he said.
The Trinamool leader claimed Mukherjee had indulged in
"unsuccessful backbiting" and backroom manoeuvres in the 1990s to
prevent Banerjee's annointment as a central government minister
during P.V. Narasimha Rao's prime ministerial stint.
"Again he never helped out Banerjee when she was constantly pushed
to the wall in the Congress. At last, Banerjee had to form her own
party," he said.
The Trinamool leader said Banerjee "strongly felt" that during her
one year as state chief minister she never got any backing from
Mukherjee, who was in charge of the union finance ministry.
"She has inherited a debt-ridden state. Before the assembly
election last year, even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had
promised that the central government will go the extra mile if a
Trinamool-Congress government was formed.
"But after the election, no central help has been forthcoming.
Mukherjee has constantly delayed any concrete action by having
recourse to an endless sequence of meetings. And there is now very
little money in the state coffers to carry out development,' he
(Sirshendu Panth can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)