Mamata U Turns supports Pranab for President

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By Prakash Mishra
Date  18 July 2012
In a U-turn, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee Tuesday said her party will vote for UPA's Pranab Mukherjee in Thursday's presidential battle. She called the decision 'painful' and that she was left with no other option.

"We have decided to support Pranab Mukherjee keeping in mind the alliance we have with the Congress," a sombre Banerjee told the media after a meeting of her party's senior MPs and legislators.

Mukherjee told journalists: "I welcome this decision." ongress spokesman Manish Tewari said this would further strengthen Mukherjee's candidature. But the BJP demanded to know the "compulsions" behind Banerjee's dramatic U-turn.

The West Bengal chief minister said she had informed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh about the decision. She added that UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi was "well aware of her mind".

"In the interest of the people, democracy ... we have decided to vote for him."

In comments that made it clear that she was miffed with Mukherjee, she called the decision "painful and tough".

Had former president A.P.J Kalam agreed to be in the race, we would have supported him. But nobody forced my hand. I have not taken my decision by bowing down to any pressure or to please anyone," she said.

With Trinamool backing Mukherjee, he can get around 735,000 votes from the electoral college made up of MPs and legislators. NDA's Purno Sangma, a former Lok Sabha speaker, can count on 313,000 votes.

Banerjee pointed out that her party was left with two options - to abstain or vote for Mukherjee or Sangma.

"This is an election which has created divisions in the UPA, NDA and the Left Front. We decided to vote because if we don't vote, then how could we appeal to the masses to vote?

"We have not taken this decision from the core of our heart. We have no other option."

Banerjee rubbished allegations that the decision was driven by covert dealings with the Congress. "We don't believe in political dealings."

She announced that three legislators of the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) will also support Mukherjee.

Turning a bit emotional, Banerjee said she didn't have any conversation with Mukherjee for the last eight months.

"I don't know what happened but we have not spoken to each other for the last eight months. The prime minister calls me up frequently. We do have conversations. I do have contacts with Sonia Gandhi. But I didn't have any conversations with Pranabda. I don't know why," she said.

Banerjee recalled how she had helped Mukherjee return to the Congress after he fell out with late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi after the death of Indira Gandhi.

"When he left Congress and formed a different party, I had arranged his meeting with Rajivji when he had visited Kolkata. Again I had arranged a meeting between the two in Tripura. We were very happy after he became the finance minister in 2009."

Banerjee hoped that after getting elected as president, Mukherjee would come to Writers' Building to have a cup of tea with her.

"I had earlier invited him... But maybe he was busy."

Banerjee indicated her desire to treat the issue as a closed chapter.

"I don't want to drag the matter. We all know what happened. I've never attacked anybody personally."

Mukherjee is pitted against Sangma, who has the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party and some National Democratic Alliance constituents besides the AIADMK and Biju Janata Dal.

The electoral arithmetic is now overwhelmingly in favour of Mukherjee. The Samajwadi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Communist Party of India-Marxist, Forward Bloc, Janata Dal-United and Shiv Sena are also voting for him.

Banerjee, however, did not spare the Congress.

"It (state Congress) is basically a non-entity in the state. They have always been hand in gloves with CPI-M. That is why Trinamool was formed. We know their true colours," she said

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