Forty eight hours before the presidential election, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee succumbed and announced on Tuesday that the Trinamool Congress would support the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) candidate for President, Pranab Mukherjee. With this addition of Trinamool votes, jubilant Congress managers said they expect Mr. Mukherjee to poll a minimum of 7,20,000 votes, even as his opponent Purno Sangma was thus far assured of approximately 3,13,000 votes.
Though the UPA is way ahead of the opposition in the contest, the Congress is taking no chances. All through Tuesday, party MPs, State-wise, met party president Sonia Gandhi at 10 Janpath, where they went through the voting drill to ensure that no one makes a mistake on July 19. Those who could not meet her on Tuesday will meet her at 4 p.m. on Wednesday.
Ms. Gandhi is also hosting lunch in honour of Mr. Mukherjee at Ashoka Hotel on Wednesday. Those invited include MPs of the party, other UPA allies as well as the parties that officially support the government from outside.
Congress parliamentary managers said preparations for the vice-presidential poll were proceeding smoothly: Hamid Ansari is scheduled to file his nomination papers at 11 a.m. on Wednesday and, these sources said, he was already assured of 470 votes (i.e. without the Trinamool Congress) in an electoral college of 790. They added that by the time the campaigning was over, they expected the figure to be in the vicinity of 500.
The Congress sources said Ms. Banerjee was forced to “roll back” her decision to oppose Mr. Mukherjee because she was not confident that all her MPs and MLAs would follow her orders.
“She was afraid that there might be cross-voting,” a Congress functionary said adding, “This would have exposed her.”
Officially, the Congress welcomed the support extended by the Trinamool. “We welcome the support declared by Ms. Banerjee to Mr. Mukherjee’s candidature,” party media chairperson and general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said.
“The Congress has always maintained that Ms. Banerjee is a valuable ally. We hope and trust that the UPA will continue to get her support and cooperation in future also, including for the vice-presidential election,” he said.
Congress functionary in-charge of West Bengal Shakeel Ahmed, describing it as a good development, said: “We said from the beginning that she will support us in the presidential poll. Had we voted separately in this poll, it would not have sent a good signal and unnecessarily put strains on our ties; that will not happen now.”