The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Panja plants feet on twin boats

Calcutta, June 1: Suspended Trinamul Congress leader Ajit Panja appears to be running his political horses in all directions.

The rebel MP returned from London after a surgery this morning and indicated he would move closer to his parent party, the Congress, after the June 8 Assembly byelection for the Vidyasagar Assembly seat, where his daughter Mohua Mandal is the party’s candidate. But, that Panja wants to keep his options open was evident when he said he would not turn down a talks offer from Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee.

“The result of the Vidyasagar bypoll will give a direction and I am looking forward to it. Vidyasagar is an acid test for me and, moreover, I will have to take a decision on my political future. I will, however, respond if Mamata wants to discuss something with me. After all, we had a long association,” he said.

Panja kicked off a four-day campaign for daughter Mohua this evening. He addressed two meetings at Shyamsundartala and Rajabazar.

The MP, who had set up Mukta Mancha, a “non-political” platform for secular and democratic forces, made it clear that a chasm had been created between him and the BJP-led NDA. He is yet to get over Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “failure” to live up to an assurance at a public meeting in the northern suburbs of Calcutta to re-induct him into the Central Cabinet. “The Prime Minister himself assured me but did not keep his word,” Panja said.

Asked whether his presence would provide a handle to the CPM and queer her daughter’s pitch, he avoided a straight answer. “Actually, Mohua is my only daughter and she has lost her mother. She is also a Congress candidate backed by Mukta Mancha. I don’t think my present political position will have any effect. If it was so, the CPM would have already started campaigning on those lines,” he said.

The Congress was faced with embarrassing questions after announcing that Panja would be its star campaigner in Vidyasagar.

The spotlight was turned on the sidelined Trinamul leader on May 24 when Mamata rushed to a private hospital in Salt Lake to visit Panja after refusing to join the Vajpayee ministry. Speculation was rife that Mamata will work towards a rapprochement with Panja to upstage one-time confidante and party MP Sudip Bandopadhyay. A Panja-Mamata truce appears a long shot now.

Sources said Mamata reaffirmed her faith in Vajpayee while campaigning for the BJP candidate in Vidyasagar yesterday.

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