Kolkata, May 21 (IANS) Throwing twin surprises, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Sunday named former state Congress chief Manas Bhunia and an ex-legislator from the hills Shanta Chhetri as Trinamool Congress candidates for the coming Rajya Sabha polls in the state.
Trinamool leader in the Rajya Sabha Derek O’Brien, and two other sitting members Sukhendu Sekhar Roy and Dola Sen also figured in the list of five candidates announced by Banerjee, who is also the party chief.
“The following are All India Trinamool Congress candidates for forthcoming Rajya Sabha election: Derek O’Brien, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, Dola Sen, Manas Bhunia and Shanta Chhetri,” she said in a Facebook post.
Bhunia, who switched over to the Trinamool last September, is officially still a Congress legislator from Sabong in West Midnapore district.
With the Congress moving the judiciary and also knocking on the doors of the Speaker pleading for the cancellation of Bhunia’s membership under the Anti-Defection act, the senior leader is in an embarrassing situation.
Banerjee had earlier promised Bhunia that she would accommodate her in the party keeping in mind his stature and seniority.
Besides, the arithmetic of the house could also have prompted Banerjee’s decision to opt for Bhunia.
The Trinamool has 211 members in the 294-strong assembly, and as such is in a position to win five of the six seats that have fallen vacant.
A candidate needs 42 first preference votes to make it to the upper house from the state.
The Congress and the Left Front, which fought the previous polls as allies and secured 44 and 32 seats respectively, can win the sixth seat easily if they put up a joint candidate, despite losing some of their legislators to the Trinamool over the past one year.
Banerjee has already made overtures to the Congress not to tie up with the LF, and instead promised support if it names a candidate acceptable to the Trinamool.
In this context, longtime Congress leader Bhunia’s candidature could be a ploy to cause division in the Congress ranks and ensure cross-voting in his favour if talks fail with the Congress.
After announcing the candidates, Banerjee said she was yet to decide on nominating a sixth candidate.
“We will decide later on whether to put up another candidate,” she said, apparently hinting at talks with the Congress.
Chhetri, a three-time Gorkha National Liberation Front (GNLF) legislator from Kurseong in the northern Bengal hills, unsuccessfully contested from the same constituency on a Trinamool ticket in last year’s assembly polls.
Her nomination is being interpreted in political circles as Banerjee’s message to the people of the hills, a few days after the municipal polls where Trinamool won in Mirik Notified Area, and picked up seats in Darjeeling, Kalimpong and Kurseong.
With the Trinamool now emerging as the main challenger to the BJP-backed dominant hill party Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Banerjee may be hoping to establish a greater emotive connect with the people there following Chhetri’s nomination.
“I am very happy. I have seen the hills being exploited, but nobody gives anything to the hills in return. I am happy that I could give something in return to the hills,” said Banerjee.
An elated Chhetri said her candidature was a “matter of great pride”, and expressed her gratitude to Banerjee.
“I will be devoted to the Trinamool Congress as long as I live and would keep working as a faithful soldier of the party,” she said.