National Democratic Alliance (NDA) presidential nominee Droupadi Murmu arrived in Kolkata on July 11 evening.
Ms. Murmu is likely to meet the lawmakers of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in West Bengal. But political observers will be keenly watching on how the Trinamool Congress leadership reacts to the NDA presidential nominee.
West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee on July 1 had softened her stand on the NDA candidate, saying that if she was aware of Ms. Murmu’s candidature earlier, things would have been different.
“If we had got suggestions about who their [BJP’s] candidate was, we could have discussed at the all-party meeting…,” she had said. The Trinamool chairperson who played a key role in getting the Opposition parties together in fielding Yashwant Sinha as their candidate for presidential polls had also added that Ms. Murmu has higher chances of winning polls for the highest office in the country.
Two factors could have led the Chief Minister to make these comments.
One is the support of the tribal population in the State, which in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls had supported the BJP. The second is the fact which Ms. Banerjee admitted herself saying that “she was biased towards women”. The remarks by the Chief Minister on the NDA presidential nominee has even left her party members, particularly the MLAs and MPs guessing.
The State BJP leaders Suvendu Adhikari and Sukanta Majumdar have written to Trinamool lawmakers seeking support for Ms. Murmu. However, there has been no formal response from the Trinamool to the request.
This is not the first occasion that Ms. Banerjee has changed her stand on the presidential polls. Almost 10 years ago, in 2012 the Trinamool chairperson had put all her might into seeking a second term for A.P.J. Abdul Kalam for the office of President of India. Later, when the former President refused to contest as there was no consensus among all the parties, she supported Pranab Mukherjee and organised a civic reception for Mr. Mukherjee on his first visit to West Bengal after assuming the office of President of India.
Tribal vote bank
The scheduled tribe population in West Bengal is less than 6% as per 2011 census and the population is located in certain pockets of south Bengal and north Bengal. It is still not clear whether the change in the stand in the Trinamool chairperson stand was owing to the tribal vote bank or any other issue.
It was Ms. Banerjee who called for the Opposition parties to come together as far as fielding a candidate for presidential polls were concerned. She visited the National Capital and participated in a meeting on June 15 where representatives of 17 Opposition parties, including the Congress, decided to put up a candidate.
On June 21, instead of Chief Minister, her nephew and party general secretary Abhishek Banerjee participated in the meeting of Opposition parties on the same issue. As more and more parties came out in support of the NDA nominee and with the development in Maharashtra, many feel that the Trinamool chairperson lost her interest in the Presidential election.
Sources in the Trinamool Congress say that with only less than a week left for election to the office of President of India, Opposition candidate Yashwant Sinha may skip campaign in West Bengal.
“There is a possibility of cross voting particularly by MPs and MLAs of Trinamool representing tribal areas of West Bengal. This has become clearer after the Chief Minister remarks on the NDA candidate Droupadi Murmu,” political observer Biswanath Chakraborty said. Prof Chakraborty who teaches Political Science at Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati University said that the inconsistency in the stand of the Trinamool chairperson as far as the Opposition candidate for the presidential election is concerned, will have a bearing on her image as an Opposition leader across political parties in the country.