Pranab vs Mamata: A tale of differences behind show of bonhomie

Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee have never quite gelled, despite their apparent show of bonhomie from time to time.

The former has the image of a shrewd and seasoned administrator - comfortable both in diplomatic debates and calculative political dialogues to defuse crises. The other is instinctive and unpredictable, often seeming to lack in sophistication, and more adept in aggressive political fights and pressure games.

The two are as different as chalk and cheese.  So when Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress chief, went all out to nix Mukherjee's chances of making it to Raisina Hill, it did not come as a surprise to political leaders who have been witness to the ebb and tide of relations between the two.

A front-ranking state Congress leader described as "rank jealousy" Banerjee's animosity to Mukherjee becoming president. "She wants to carve out a niche for herself as a Bengali. She thinks she is the only sun in West Bengal, and does not want anyone to occupy any important slot from the state. She thinks she will be eclipsed. It is her mindset which is at play," said Congress MP Adhir Chowdhury.

Another state Congress leader Om Prakash Mishra pointed out that it was Pranab Mukherjee who ensured Banerjee got the Congress ticket to contest her maiden Lok Sacha election from the Jadavpur constituency in 1984. "At that time, she was a Subrata Mukherjee loyalist. And Pranabda was Subrata's mentor."

"In later years also, he has been very accommodative of Banerjee. Both in 2001 and 2009, when Banerjee's Trinamool aligned with the Congress, it was Mukherjee who accommodated her hugely by giving a large chunk of seats," he said.

However, a Trinamool Congress leader claimed that it was Mukherjee who has always been "extremely jealous" of Banerjee's mass appeal. "Mukherjee maybe a statesman, but he has never been a mass leader. In fact he won his first direct election from Jangipur Lok Sabha seat in Murshidabad district only eight years back, after having spent nearly four decades in politics.

"He has never had any base of his own in the state, unlike Banerjee who has always had a huge mass following. Mukherjee has never taken this in the right spirit," he said.

The Trinamool leader claimed Mukherjee had indulged in "unsuccessful backbiting" and backroom manoeuvres in the 1990s to prevent Banerjee's annointment as a central government minister during P.V. Narasimha Rao's prime ministerial stint.

"Again he never helped out Banerjee when she was constantly pushed to the wall in the Congress. At last, Banerjee had to form her own party," he said.

The Trinamool leader said Banerjee "strongly felt" that during her one year as state chief minister she never got any backing from Mukherjee, who was in charge of the union finance ministry.

"She has inherited a debt-ridden state. Before the assembly election last year, even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised that the central government will go the extra mile if a Trinamool-Congress government was formed.

"But after the election, no central help has been forthcoming. Mukherjee has constantly delayed any concrete action by having recourse to an endless sequence of meetings. And there is now very little money in the state coffers to carry out development,' he said.

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