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Congress, Left pulling in opposite directions in West Bengal

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-07-2017 Arkamoy Dutta Majumdar

Kolkata: A little over a year after they joined forces to contest the 2016 assembly polls, the Congress and the Left parties are pulling in opposite directions in West Bengal. On Friday, they fielded separate candidates for the six Rajya Sabha berths from the state to which elections are to be held on 8 August.

On the strength of the number of its legislators, the Trinamool Congress could have claimed all six seats in the Rajya Sabha, but chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday announced her support for Congress candidate Pradip Bhattacharya, one of the six Rajya Sabha members whose term is set to end next month.

Banerjee’s move was widely seen as a goodwill gesture aimed at fostering closer ties with the Congress high command on national issues. Because the Left parties have chosen not to support him despite the Congress having earlier backed Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), to win elections to the Rajya Sabha, the Trinamool Congress has decided to back Bhattacharya, Banerjee said on Friday.

With the deadline for filing nominations approaching, the Left Front on Friday scrambled to field former mayor of Kolkata and senior lawyer, Bikash Bhattacharya, as its candidate, capping a failed search for an apolitical “eminent person” who the Congress, too, would support. This follows the decision of the CPI(M) central committee earlier this week that it will not seek the Congress’s support for getting its candidate elected to the Rajya Sabha, even at the cost of isolation as an opposition party in West Bengal.

The former mayor of Kolkata does not, however, have any chance of winning the election. The Left parties have only 31 legislators and the Congress, 36. Even without the Trinamool Congress’s support, Pradip Bhattacharya would have been ahead in the race.

“Whether it is the end of the alliance between the Congress and the Left parties in West Bengal is for the high command to decide,” said Congress lawmaker Manoj Chakraborty, adding that he didn’t agree with Left Front chairman Biman Bose’s allegation that the Congress had unilaterally drifted away from the alliance.

“It appears that the top leadership of the party in Delhi is giving up on the CPM and its allies for closer ties with the much stronger Trinamool Congress,” said another senior Congress leader in West Bengal, who asked not to be identified. Speculation is rife that some top Congress leaders could defect to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ahead of the 2019 general election, this person added but refused to elaborate.

Biswanath Chakraborty, professor of political science at Kolkata’s Rabindra Bharati University, said the Congress must have fielded Pradip Bhattacharya only after making sure that the chief minister would back him. Banerjee has said several times in the recent past that she is with the Congress in national politics and supporting Pradip Bhattacharya, instead of fielding a sixth Trinamool Congress candidate, is the first step towards forging a long-term alliance with the Congress, Chakraborty added.

The Trinamool Congress has fielded Derek O’Brien, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, Dola Sen, Manas Bhunia and Shanta Chhetri. While the first three are members of the Rajya Sabha retiring next month, Bhunia just resigned as a Congress legislator and is joining the Trinamool Congress. Chhetri is a former lawmaker from Kurseong who has defected from the Gorkha National Liberation Front.

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