The chronology of events relating to both the recently-concluded presidential election and the August 6 vice-presidential poll makes it clear that Banerjee had started making up her mind to split with the opposition parties at the start of this month.
On July 13, Banerjee had met the then West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar in Darjeeling along with her Assam counterpart Himanta Biswa Sarma. This meeting is being seen as the turning point for TMC’s U-turn. However, the change of heart seems to have come much earlier.
With the Congress still smarting under the embarrassing defeat in assembly elections in five states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur early this year and preoccupied with protests over grilling of their leader Rahul Gandhi by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the National Herald case, TMC took the lead in deciding the opposition candidate for the presidential election.
It first proposed the names of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah and Gopal Krishna Gandhi but all three rejected the offer.
On June 21, Banerjee convened a meeting in New Delhi of the opposition parties. The meeting was attended by 17 parties. They decided in favour of Yashwant Sinha, who was the national vice-president of TMC for the past three years and had resigned just a few hours before the meeting started.
Elated over the joint opposition’s decision, Banerjee said in a tweet, “I would like to congratulate Shri Yashwant Sinha on becoming the consensus candidate, supported by all progressive opposition parties, for the upcoming presidential election. A man of great honour and acumen, who would surely uphold the values that represent our great nation!”
I would like to congratulate Shri @YashwantSinha on becoming the consensus candidate, supported by all progressive… https://t.co/S6KHhvhiuJ
— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) 1655808085000
The BJP-led NDA declared Droupadi Murmu as its presidential candidate a few hours later.
And Banerjee’s tone and tenor changed in less than a week.
On July 27, Sinha filed his papers for the post of president. Those present on the occasion included Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge and Jairam Ramesh, Sharad Pawar, SP president Akhilesh Yadav and Farooq Abdullah.
However, Banerjee was conspicuous by her absence. Instead, TMC was represented in the meeting by party general secretary and her nephew Abhishek Banerjee.
This was the first jolt to opposition unity and a first hint that she was wavering in her support to Sinha.
On July 1, Banerjee took all opposition parties by surprise when she said that had she known that the NDA was planning to field Murmu, a tribal woman, she could have thought about a consensus.
She blamed the BJP for not telling the opposition about its nominee but only asking for their suggestion.
Banerjee also said Murmu could have been a consensus candidate if the NDA had shared her name ahead of announcing it. She said Murmu had a better chance to win the presidential race, particularly after the Maharashtra developments in which the Shiv Sena faction led by Eknath Shinde toppled the MVA government led by Uddhav Thackeray.
Earlier, Shiv Sena led by Thackeray had pledged its support to Sinha. But after his government was toppled, both he and Shinde backed Murmu.
Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury accused Banerjee of buckling under pressure from the BJP. “It was Didi (Banerjee) who tried to thrust her decision on others. It was she who suggested Sinha’s name. Now she is trying to shed her responsibility. If she has taken a U-turn, it means she received a call from the BJP. She must be under some pressure from (Prime Minister) Narendra Modi. After all, she shares a good rapport with Modi,” he said.
While Sinha kept visiting one state after another, meeting opposition leaders and seeking support, Banerjee was seen taking a back seat. At a time when other opposition parties such as TRS in Telangana and CPM in Kerala whole-heartedly extended their support to Sinha, the same enthusiasm was missing in the case of TMC.
It was finally evident on the day of counting on July 21. As Murmu surged far ahead of Sinha and looked set to occupy the president’s post, Banerjee claimed that had she wished, she could have garnered more votes in support of Sinha.
BJP’s co-in-charge of West Bengal Amit Malviya took a dig at Banerjee over the result and said, “Two TMC MPs and one MLA cross voted. Vote of two TMC MPs and four MLAs declared invalid. Mamata Banerjee, self-appointed fulcrum of opposition unity, failed to prevail over her own legislators. On the other hand, despite intimidation, all BJP WB legislators backed Smt Droupadi Murmu.”
2 TMC MPs and 1 MLA cross voted. Vote of 2 TMC MPs and 4 MLAs declared invalid. Mamata Banerjee, self appointed ful… https://t.co/mVWyfvOpbK
— Amit Malviya (@amitmalviya) 1658429111000
Finally, Murmu won the election and was sworn in as the 15th president of the country by succeeding Ram Nath Kovind. She was administered the oath by Chief Justice of of India N V Ramana in the Central Hall of Parliament on July 25.
In the case of the presidential election, the attitude of TMC had changed the day Sinha filed his nomination on June 27. The same lackadaisical behaviour has continued even in the case of the vice-presidential election to be held on August 6.
While NDA nominated then West Bengal governor Jagdeep Dhankar as its candidate for the vice-president’s post, Congress leader and former Union minister Margaret Alva is the combined opposition candidate.
On July 13, a meeting of Dhankar with Banerjee and Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma was held in Raj Bhawan in Darjeeling. This meeting assumes significance because it was held in a cordial atmosphere even though it is widely known that there is no love lost between Dhankhar and Banerjee.
Dhankhar posted a video clip of the meeting on Twitter. He said, “West Bengal Governor Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar with Hon’ble Chief Minister Smt Mamata Banerjee and Hon’ble Chief Minister Assam Shri Himanta Biswa Sarma at Raj Bhawan, Darjeeling.”
West Bengal Governor Shri Jagdeep Dhankhar with Hon’ble Chief Minister Smt. Mamata Banerjee and Hon’ble Chief Minis… https://t.co/4xr3FcxCeC
— Jagdeep Dhankhar (@jdhankhar1) 1657716341000
Three days later after this meeting, on July 17, the opposition came together to select their vice-presidential candidate. While Alva was declared as their candidate, TMC skipped the meeting. It said the party would take a decision in its meeting on July 21.
However, on July 21, TMC declared that it would abstain from voting because the party was not consulted before the opposition bloc proposed Alva’s candidature.
On skipping the July 17 meeting of opposition parties, Abhishek Banerjee said it was initially called at one place and then shifted in 10 hours.
He said TMC had felt let down by the opposition’s “haste and hara-kiri” in deciding the V-P candidate. “We had proposed a few names too, which we do not want to disclose now. The consultation process was on at that time. The meeting of opposition parties was initially called at one place and then shifted in 10 hours… Otherwise, Margaret Alva as a person has a very good equation with Mamata Banerjee,” he said.
However, he added: “There is no question of supporting NDA candidate Jagdeep Dhankhar, given his role as Bengal governor for the last three years… We are not going to support opposition candidate Margaret Alva either because of the way her candidature was announced, without consulting our party, which has 35 members of Parliament.”
Abhishek Banerjee added, “An opposition leader (Sharad Pawar) went on record saying he tried to contact our party chief Mamata Banerjee, but that was after the meeting.”
TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien blamed the Congress. “Congress has to treat all opposition parties as equal partners,” he said.