Mamata Banerjee rejects Sonia Gandhi’s invite for dinner ahead of President poll

Mamata Banerjee rejects Sonia Gandhi's invite for dinner ahead of President pollKolkata: For the second time, Mamata Banerjee will skip a dinner hosted by Sonia Gandhi for all members of the UPA.

Ahmed Patel, who is also Sonia Gandhi’s political secretary, phoned Ms Banerjee this evening to invite her to the dinner scheduled for Wednesday, the 18th – the night before the election for the President of India.

As a reason for her RSVP, the West Bengal chief minister said she needs to be in Kolkata for a major rally scheduled for July 21.

Ms Banerjee has been estranged from the UPA since last month, when she rejected then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee as the coalition’s candidate. Ms Banerjee had, flanked by Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, suggested the Prime Minister as one of their three choices, winding the Congress. Mr Yadav, however, secretly struck a pact with the Congress to vote for Mr Mukherjee, leaving Ms Banerjee marginalised in a coalition that had grown accustomed to her calling the shots and over-ruling the majority opinion within the UPA on major policy issues.

In May, Ms Banerjee skipped the Prime Minister’s dinner for the UPA on the occasion of its third anniversary. Her absence was overshadowed by the conspicuous presence of Mr Yadav. Though he provides external support to the UPA, he was placed on stage along with parties that are actually members of the coalition. He was seated next to Mrs Gandhi at her table for the meal that followed.

After being declared the UPA candidate, Mr Mukherjee has appealed to Ms Banerjee to urge her party’s MPs and state legislators to support him. He has also written to them directly. She has so far said only that she will make up her mind three days before the election, making Monday D-day.

However, she has agreed that Mukul Roy from her party, who is a union minister, will represent her Trinamool Congress at a meeting tomorrow afternoon. The agenda of that session is reportedly to finalise the coalition’s strategy for Mr Mukherjee’s election. But the Congress also wants to gauge whether a second term for vice president Hamid Ansari is acceptable to its partners. The vice-president will be elected in August. Ms Banerjee is not a fan of Mr Ansari’s, largely because he was endorsed by the Left for the post of vice-president five years ago. Any common ground with the Left is usually anathema for Ms Banerjee’s party.

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