Express News Service
NEW DELHI: Keeping in mind the possibility of a future Opposition alliance, the Congress has decided not to field a candidate against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the Bhowanipore bypolls in Kolkata on September 30.
Party sources said the top leadership is not in favour of fielding a candidate against Mamata when the Opposition is trying to form a national front against BJP and she is expected to win. During a meeting called by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last month, Mamata had harped on unity.
The West Bengal unit headed by MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury had on Monday said the state unit wants to contest against Mamata and has sent their proposal to the high command. He said that the party is looking to ally with the Left to contest the constituency.
“There has been pressure from the state unit as they want to put up a candidate for the bypolls. They have also conveyed about the thinking of the party high command to contest the seat against the chief minister,” said a source.
Sources said the state unit has informed that the Left will contest the seat even if the Congress decides not to. The Left-Congress contested West Bengal Assembly elections in alliance but neither of them managed to win a single seat.
Chowdhury, who had been critical of Trinamool Congress during the Assembly elections, recently wrote to the Bengal CM that their cadres are brutally attacking Congress supporters in Murshidabad district. The Election Commission has announced bypolls for three seats — Bhowanipore, Samserganj and Jangipur — in West Bengal. Counting of votes is scheduled for October 3.
Meanwhile, Left Front on Tuesday questioned the decision of the Election Commission to hold by-poll in only one assembly seat West Bengal on September 30 and demanded it be conducted in four other constituencies in the state at the earliest.
After a meeting of Front constituents at the CPI-M office, the LF also gave call to make successful the general nationwide strike on September 27 by Sanjukta Kishan Morcha to protest against the three farm bills and attacks on farmers.
The LF is supporting the strike.
About the September 30 by-election in Bhabanipur where Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the candidate of the ruling Trinamool Congress, the statement said “The EC could not prove its prudence and sagacity by its decision to hold bypoll in only one of the five seats where such exercise was due, apparently to benefit one political personality.
“How could the chief secretary surmise in his submission to the poll panel that by not electing one personality could lead to constitutional crisis when the ruling party has its own majority to run government?” the Front asked.
With 213 seats in its kitty the TMC could have chosen its leader from among the elected MLAs.
It is their failure to be unable to elect their leader who will helm the state from among the elected legislators, it said.
“By the way one veteran political leader was forced to quit Bhabanipur seat just after an emphatic win and now faces the uncertainty about being elected to the assembly within six months’ period.
The West Bengal chief secretary didn’t refer that he too faces the uncertainity of losing ministership if not elected in six months,” the Front added.
Banerjee had contested and lost from Nandigram and TMC old timer and state cabinet minister Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay contested and won from Bhabanipur, from where the party supremo had won twice since 2011.
He has vacated the seat to facilitate Banerjee to contest from it.
The resolution said the electorate of four other assembly constituencies – Deganga, Khardah, Santipur, Dinhata – will be deprived of exercising their democratic right for the time being and demanded that by-election to them be held at the earliest.
The LF also demanded immediate holding of polls in six municipal corporations, 112 municipalties and Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad (Siliguri subdivisional council) which are overdue for two years following the pandemic.
Administrators have been appointed to run them.
The EC has announced polling on September 30 in Jangipur and Samserganj assembly seats in Murshidabad where polling was countermanded.
The BJP on Tuesday accused Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who is TMC’s Bhabanipur by-poll candidate, of violating the model code of conduct (MCC) by participating in a programme where the West Bengal government announced a grant of Rs 50,000 to each Durga puja organising committee ahead of the state’s biggest festival.
The West Bengal government has announced the grant for the second year in a row primarily to make up for lost sponsorship and extra expenditure due to the Covid pandemic.
Chief Secretary H K Dwivedi on Tuesday announced free licences as well as a 50 per cent discount on the power tariff for the committees organising Durga puja this year.
He announced this at the programme where Banerjee met several Durga puja organisers from the city and other parts of the state.
A three-member state BJP delegation led by party state vice-president Pratap Banerjee met the chief electoral officer here and urged the EC to take action against Banerjee for violating the model code of conduct and also restrain her from participating in the by-election.
“We have requested the Election Commission to take action against Bhabanipur by-poll candidate Mamata Banerjee for violating the MCC by announcing cash rewards for Durga Puja clubs despite the declaration of the bypolls date and the poll guidelines being in place. We have also demanded that she should be restrained from participating in the by-poll for violating the MCC,” BJP leader Shishir Bajoria said.
The TMC leadership refused to attach much importance to BJP’s demand.
“The BJP after its humiliating defeat (in the April-May assembly poll) seems to have lost it. First of all the chief minister did not make any announcement. It was the chief secretary who made all the announcements. Secondly, there is nothing new in the announcements. Last year too similar announcements were made by the state government.”
“The BJP knows they have lost the bypolls so they are now trying to make an issue out of a non-issue,” TMC state general secretary Kunal Ghosh said.
BJP state general secretary Sayantan Basu told PTI that names of candidates for Bhabanipur as well two other assembly seats in Murshidabad will be decided “in a day or two”.
Earlier in the day, state BJP chief Dilip Ghosh said that a nominee for Bhabanipur might be chosen by Wednesday or Thursday.
“The Election Commission has decided to hold by-elections on September 30. We had the idea that it would be held sometime later. But we must obey the EC order, we don’t oppose independent constitutional bodies like the EC, unlike the TMC,” Ghosh said.
In a dig at the TMC supremo, he said that the ruling party, in its bid to clear the way for Banerjee, made Sovandeb Chattopadhyay vacate the Bhabanipur seat, which he had won by a wide margin.
Speculation was rife that the TMC will field Chattopadhyay, the state agriculture minister, from Khardah constituency, where winning candidate Kajal Sinha died of COVID-19.
“Now, with no word about bypoll in seats other than Bhabanipur, Jangipur, Samserganj, his political career has plunged into uncertainty.
Will Chattopadhyay continue to be a minister if byelections for the remaining seats are not held by first week of November?” the BJP state president stated.
Ghosh continued his tirade against the TMC, claiming that the state government is regularly facing setbacks in the court of law, but it would still rush from one bench to another despite the snub.
In a jolt for the Mamata Banerjee-led government, the Calcutta High Court last month ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into allegations of “heinous” crimes in the aftermath of elections.
On Monday, it also refrained the state police from taking any coercive action against BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, who is the leader of opposition in the House, in cases filed against him.
The TMC has moved the division bench challenging the order.
In a jibe at TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, who was grilled on September 6 for around nine hours by the Enforcement Directorate in a coal smuggling case, Ghosh said, “After the interrogation, he got angry and made impossible claims of defeating the BJP everywhere. We understand his anger and frustration.”
“He should remember that the TMC has base only in one state. Be it Tripura to elsewhere in India, the party has no influence. Any dream to defeat the BJP will remain a pipe dream,” Ghosh asserted.
The TMC had been trying to gain foothold in Tripura, where elections are slated to be held in 2023.
Rejecting the BJP leader’s assertions, TMC spokesman Kunal Ghosh said that the BJP is “conspiring to harass its political opponents”, who pose threat to its electoral ambitions, with the help of central agencies such as the ED and the CBI.
“The BJP is scared of TMC’s popularity after its massive setback in West Bengal. The party is afraid of TMC’s connection with the masses in Tripura. People in Tripura want to get rid of the Biplab Deb government. Dilip babu’s words make no sense, they are hollow,” he added.
will launch her campaign for the September 30 by-poll in Bhabanipur assembly seat on Wednesday with a meeting of TMC workers in south Kolkata, Trinamool Congress sources said.
Banerjee will seek election to the assembly from the seat.
According to TMC leaders, Banerjee will address party workers and leaders of all the eight municipal wards in the constituency at an auditorium on Wednesday.
“Mamata Didi will address party workers tomorrow (Wednesday) and give them direction on how to campaign and the issues that will be highlighted. There are strict instructions from the leadership that tomorrow’s meeting and the entire campaign will be held following COVID norms,” a senior TMC leader said.
The TMC on Sunday officially announced Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as its candidate for the by-election in Bhabanipur.
TMC’s campaign in the south Kolkata seat is underway after the Election Commission announced the bypoll on Saturday following a request from the state government to avoid a constitutional crisis.
Banerjee, who lost the election in Nandigram to her former protege Suvendu Adhikari, has to win this by-poll to retain her chief minister’s post.
The BJP, Congress, and CPI(M)-led Left Front are yet to announce their candidates for the bypoll.
The bypoll will be held on September 30 along with the elections to Samserganj and Jangipur seats in Murshidabad district where polling could not be held during the eight-phase assembly election held earlier this year.
The counting of votes will take place on October 3.
TMC has pulled out all the stops to ensure Banerjee’s victory by a record margin and has engaged senior leaders to look after the eight municipal wards in the constituency.
“The party state president (Subrata Bakshi) has been given the responsibility of ward 63, party secretary-general and minister Partha Chatterjee has been assigned with ward numbers 71 and 72, state minister Firhad Hakim and other senior leaders have been asked to look after other wards. This has been done to ensure that Didi (Banerjee) wins the seat with a record margin,” another senior TMC leader said.
Banerjee is a resident of Bhabanipur and has contested from the seat in the past two state assembly elections since 2011.
Banerjee, who led her party to a massive electoral triumph for a third successive term, is required to win a seat in the state assembly by November 5 in conformity with the constitutional provisions to continue as chief minister.
The Constitution allows a non-member of a state legislature or Parliament to continue in a ministerial position for six months.
After her defeat in Nandigram, Sovandeb Chattopadhyay, state cabinet minister and TMC MLA from Bhabanipur, vacated the seat to facilitate her election from there.
Banerjee had entered the Assembly after winning the by-poll in the Bhabanipur seat months after her party stormed to power by ousting the 34-year-old Left Front regime in 2011.
She is a six-term MP from the South Kolkata Lok Sabha seat, which has the Bhabanipur seat as one of its segments.
(With PTI Inputs)