The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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After Mamata, Sudip cosies up to Panja

Calcutta, June 3: Taking a leaf out of his leader’s book, beleaguered Trinamul Congress MP Sudip Bandopadhyay has begun to woo suspended party MP Ajit Panja, who appears to be on way to balancing his equations with Mamata Banerjee.

As it appeared on Tuesday, Panja cleverly played the Sudip card to make Mamata withdraw his suspension.

Sources close to Bandopadhyay said apart from maintaining a low profile, he is now trying to sound those who had earlier been “ill-treated” by Mamata. He called up Panja yesterday.

The veteran leader admitted that Bandopadhyay had telephoned him. “Sudip rang me up only to enquire after my health. He had also called me up in London,” he said.

Panja was suspended from the party for defying Mamata’s anti-BJP line in the wake of the Tehelka scam. Asked whether he thought Mamata would withdraw the suspension order against him, Panja said: “You never know. She is a mercurial lady.” He, however, added in the same breath that he had never received in writing any suspension order from Trinamul.

“Over two years have elapsed but I have not been informed in writing that I have been suspended. I have only heard about it through the media. So, in the eyes of the law, my suspension is not valid,” said Panja, a lawyer by profession.

“It may be that Panja is looking for a situation where he, Bandopadhyay and another MP can effect a split in the party to either form a new one or cross over to some other,” said a Trinamul insider.

Bandopadhyay said he had called up Panja to welcome him back after his surgery in London. “After all, he stays in my constituency. Many people do not know that he is my voter,” he added.

Mamata appeared to be seeking a truce with Panja when she visited the suspended MP in a private hospital in Salt Lake before he left for London.

By bringing up the suspension issue, Panja, Trinamul insiders felt, wanted to signal Mamata that the expulsion had to be taken back and an announcement be made if she wanted a rapprochement.

Panja kept his options open. He took part in a rally today with state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee and leader Somen Mitra to campaign for daughter Mohua Mondal, a Congress candidate for Vidyasagar in the June 8 Assembly bypoll.

He parried questions on the possibilities. “Seeing me campaigning with Pranabbabu, people may think I am joining the Congress. But, believe me, there has been no such discussion yet with the state Congress leadership,” he said.

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