New Delhi, June 14: The UPA leadership has for the first time found nerve to denounce in public Mamata Banerjee's conduct, although it took care to keep hopes of reconciliation alive and not burn bridges completely.
Senior Congress leaders made no attempt to hide their exasperation with Mamata. But they insisted that there was no move to drive her out of the ruling combine.
"When UPA-II was formed, the agreement was to support the government, not to endorse every decision taken by the Congress leadership. She still supports the government," an AICC leader said.
However, in a departure from the extreme sensitivity with which the central leadership had treated Mamata so far, the Congress did vent its ire. Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni, who is considered close to Sonia Gandhi as well as the Prime Minister, accused Mamata of not showing basic courtesy to the serving Prime Minister.
"Announcing three names, including that of the Prime Minister of India, I think this is something which does not make any political or ethical sense.... Never ever there has been an instance where a sitting PM's name is being branded like this. It is a constitutional post, he heads the government and the country and one desists from such lack of courtesy.… People of our country would wonder why such tactics are being adopted by political parties," Soni said.
If Soni was speaking on behalf of the government and made no bones about its unhappiness, the party was somewhat circumspect. Congress media department head Janardan Dwivedi disapproved of Mamata's decision to reveal what transpired in the discussions with Sonia. "Aisi baaton mein ek maryada hoti hai (such negotiations have some discipline)."
However, when some television channels reported that Dwivedi had accused Mamata of violating discipline, he clarified that he had not attacked her in any manner.
Asked about the claim by Mamata's aides that she had asked permission from Sonia to reveal the names, a Congress leader said: "We don't know what exactly happened between the two leaders but Mamata should have shown greater maturity."
Most Congress leaders feel Mamata had consciously tried to play the "third front game", presuming that the government was in a bad shape and Sonia could be coerced into a surrender easily.
"Mamata's personal dislike for Pranab Mukherjee can be understood. We could have seen merit in her opposition to his candidature, too. But the attempt to forge a pressure group along with Mulayam Singh Yadav and laying down names in public while we have not made any formal announcement betrays a deeper design," a Congress leader said.
Many leaders felt Mamata thought it would be better to join hands with regional forces like the AIADMK, the BJD, the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (U) at this stage if a non-Congress, non-BJP front had to take shape in the 2014 election. This presumption has apparently forced Sonia to ask her party to see if numbers for the presidential elections can be managed without Trinamul's 4,600 votes.
The Congress would still not force Mamata out of the government, though many leaders believe her party would not be able to remain in the ministry after opposing the UPA candidate.
The Congress is trying its best to drive a wedge between her and Mulayam and hopes to succeed with the passage of time. The Congress managers feel Mukherjee's candidature will generate a broad consensus and even Mulayam will not be able to stand along with the BJP to oppose him. If that happens, Mamata would stand isolated, giving the Congress some solace in this war of nerves.