New Delhi: The Congress had a reason to cheer on Tuesday as Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee finally decides to support UPA nominee Pranab Mukherjee in the presidential elections, saying the decision was painful but necessary, as he is a Bengali.
"It's a painful decision. TMC wanted APJ Abdul Kalam to contest but he didn't get the support of all parties," said Mamata in Kolkata on Tuesday after chairing a meeting of Trinamool leaders on presidential poll where it was decided that the party would gain nothing by abstaining.
"Our decision is a compulsion to the people. Since I don't have options on hand but to follow parliamentary democracy, that's why had to go with Pranab. We wish Pranab da good luck. We were happy when Pranab became the Finance Minister. We had honoured our pre-poll promise of supporting the UPA after the elections. I along with Amit Mitra had gone to give the letter to Pranab da. That changed his career. I wish him good luck, let bygones be bygones. The old chapter is closed," Mamata said.
The U-turn by the TMC chief brought delight to the Congress who now hope that she will also support Hamid Ansari.
"We didn't want to waste the votes. It was a painful decision. I am immensely pained to do this but had to do this in the larger interest of democracy. Coalition compulsions have forced me to support Pranab, and there is nothing else at work. I have spoken to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi two-three days back. I spoke to the Prime Minister early today and have informed him of my decision. I have not attacked any one personally," said the West Bengal chief.
"One of the choices before the Trinamool was to abstain from voting. Trinamool has almost 50,000 votes. We are the main Opposition in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Trinamool is the second largest UPA constituent," she said.
With no delay in welcoming the decision of the Trinamool Congress, the Congress thanked Mamata Banerjee.
Addressing mediapersons, Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari expressed hopes that with the support of the Trinamool Congress, Mukherjee would win the presidential elections with a huge margin.
Meanwhile, another Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi termed the decision of the West Bengal Chief Minister as unexpected.
Reiterating that the Congress and the TMC remained united, Alvi said, "The TMC and the Congress are still together. She (Mamata) is a part of the UPA…a part of the government and the decision making process."
Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijeet Mukherjee, who is a Congress leader from West Bengal, also expressed his happiness over the development, saying, "Mamata has supported with some reservation, but I am feeling good."
When asked if he was expecting the support of the Trinamool Congress for his father, he said, "Why not? We too are a part of the Mamata Cabinet in West Bengal."
Later, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi also called up Banerjee thanking her for the support to the alliance nominee.
And when the man in the race, Pranab Mukherjee called up the West Bengal Chief Minister to thank her for her support, she asked invited him to Bengal after winning. In response to the invitation, Mukherjee assured her that he would visit the state after the results of the presidential elections.
Meanwhile, an unexpected welcome to the decision came from NDA leader Sharad Yadav, who called the move a right decision.
He said, "I feel that Mamata ji has taken a right decision...she has given a right statement."
The Opposition, however, hit out at the Trinamool Congress chief over her decision, claiming it must have come under some kind of pressure.
BJP leader Nirmala Sitharaman said, "We do not know under what pressure Mamata is that she has decided to support Pranab. We are very disappointed with Mamata's decision."
The U-turn by the cornered West Bengal Chief Minister brought delight to the Congress who now hope that Banerjee will also support UPA vice presidential candidate Hamid Ansari.
Amidst the strengthening of the candidature of Mukherjee for the elections, UPA vice presidential candidate Hamid Ansari also called up Mamata and sought her support.
Mamata's U-turn after her bitter war-of-words with the Congress over Mukherjee's candidature has put the latter on a stronger wicket. The Congress had managed to win back Samajwadi Party within 24 hours of its chief Mulayam Singh Yadav addressing a press conference with Mamata and rejecting the UPA's choices for presidential election.
Soon after meeting Sonia Gandhi on June 13, Mamata met Mulayam and put forward the names of former president APJ Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh and former Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee as a counter to UPA's nominees, who were Mukherjee and Vice President Hamid Ansari.
But the tables were turned in a day with Mulayam dumping Mamata and announcing that his party would support the UPA candidate.
Now more than one month after that joint press conference with Mulayam that had threatened to give the NDA a lead in the presidential election, Mamata had finally decided to support Mukherjee, which has given an unassailable lead to the UPA nominee.
Mukherjee, who has the support of the Left and even key NDA partners like the Shiv Sena and Janata Dal (United), is pitted against former Lok Sabha Speaker PA Sangma, who is backed by the BJP, Shiromani Akali Dal, Biju Janata Dal, the AIADMK and some smaller parties.
With Mamata Banerjee on board, Pranab Mukherjee is set to get 66.7 per cent of the vote while his opponent, P A Sangma, is way behind at 30.3 per cent.