There is a limit to which you can bend, says Congress leader Digvijay Singh

Reflecting his angst over ally Mamata Banerjee's dramatic rejection of the United Progressive Alliance's presidential nominees and her continued defiance, Congress leader Digvijay Singh on Sunday said there was a “limit” to which one can “bend” as certain eventualities have to be faced if they cannot be avoided.

He was replying to a question on Karan Thapar's Devil's Advocate programme on CNN-IBN whether the Congress was ready to bend over backwards to prevent Ms. Banerjee's exit from the UPA if she took a decision to leave the ruling alliance.

The AICC general secretary made it clear that the Congress on its own was not asking Ms. Banerjee to leave the UPA and “not throwing her out” either.

“All efforts have been made to console her, accept her views, accept her tantrums... beyond a certain limit, the decision is hers... there is a limit to which you can bend... there are certain eventualities, which if it cannot be avoided has to be faced,” Mr. Digvijay Singh said.

The Congress leader said it was “very embarrassing” for party president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that Ms. Banerjee not only rejected the names of both UPA nominees for President but joined hands with the Samajwadi Party and announced three more names, including that of the Prime Minister when they “did not have the consent of any of the three.”

Ms. Banerjee announced at a joint press conference with SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav last Wednesday the names of the Prime Minister, the former President, A.P.J. Adbul Kalam, and the former Lok Sabha Speaker, Somnath Chatterjee, after she had a discussion with Ms. Gandhi on the issue.

Mr. Digvijay Singh felt that the step taken by the “erratic” Ms. Banerjee was “extremely immature” and appealed to her to reconsider her decision, respond to the “magnanimity” shown by Pranab Mukherjee and support his candidature.

“It was extremely immature and embarrassing not only for the Congress president but even for the Prime Minister... certainly it was embarrassing for us because an ally, after discussing with the UPA chairperson, came out and said “we reject these two names” and came out with three other names.

“She pulled out these three names out of the hat and, as the events played out, it shows she did not have the consent of any of these three... It was not a mature thing to do... I am surprised they did this... we never expected that Ms. Banerjee and Mr. Mulayam Singh will throw names arbitrarily,” Mr. Digvijay Singh said adding that the Prime Minister was upset by all this.

The AICC general secretary said the government handled the matter well and rejected criticism that the whole issue was not properly handled. “Who would have expected that Ms. Banerjee will come out with names of those persons, who had not even conveyed their consent to contest.”

Asked why Ms. Banerjee resorted to such an action, Mr. Digvijay Singh said the Trinamool chief “miscalculated.”

“She has been erratic in some way... That is Mamata... nothing is impossible, nothing is unexpected as far as Mamata is concerned” was his refrain to a volley of questions about Ms. Banerjee's behaviour.

He felt that the Trinamool Congress chief continuing to back Mr. Kalam was a “mistake,” which she should “avoid.” The SP chief was a “pragmatic political person,” he said when asked why Mr. Mulayam Singh chose to change his mind soon after and support Mr. Pranab Mukherjee's candidature for the President's post.”

Mr. Digvijay Singh stoutly rejected suggestions of a “deal” between the Congress and the Samajwadi Party such as a promise of some relief to Mr. Mulayam Singh in CBI cases or a financial package for Uttar Pradesh.

“If we had agreed to a financial package out of turn for West Bengal, probably Mamataji would not have opposed Pranab Mukherjee,” he said.

“Mulayam is a very pragmatic political person and he saw the ground realities and then of course when he saw the overwhelming support of UPA allies and from outside [to Mukherjee's candidature], he agreed [to support Pranab].”

Mr. Digivijay Singh also felt that giving a second term to Vice-President Hamid Ansari was “not a bad idea” and that offering Vice-Presidentship to the NDA to get its support for the UPA's President candidate “looks unlikely because we already have the numbers.”

Regarding the challenge before the Congress to find a replacement to Mr. Mukherjee as Finance Minister and as the Leader of the Lok Sabha, Mr. Digvijay Singh admitted that there could be rough weather for a while as “we do not have many people of his stature and abilities,” but he expressed confidence that the vacuum would be filled as the UPA had “no dearth of talent.”

Asked about the possibility of a new Finance Minister from outside the political domain like Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, the Congress leader said: “it is for the Prime Minister to decide... the Prime Minister has every right to appoint anyone even from outside” as Finance Minister.