April 28: Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress picked a 'secular face' to lead its municipal wing the day rebel mayor Subrata Mukherjee got rival Congress's nod to fight the civic polls together with his 'secular forum'.
Javed Ahmed Khan replaced Mukherjee as the leader of the Trinamul municipal party days after the mayor broke away to float the Paschimbanga Congress Unnayan Mancha.
A member of the mayor-in-council, Khan was once known to be close to Mukherjee. Trinamul sources said he was a 'unanimous choice' for 53 councillors who attended a party meeting today.
His 'election' is apparently a bid to woo Muslims before the civic polls in Calcutta. 'It will help us maintain a secular face,' said a senior leader who did not want to be named.
In Delhi, the Congress's central leaders backed Mukherjee's proposal for a 'grand alliance of secular forces' to take on the Left Front in the May-June civic polls and the Assembly elections next year.
'I want the Congress to join the anti-CPM front of all secular forces,' the mayor said after a meeting with state Congress chief Pranab Mukherjee in Delhi.
Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel and Ambika Soni, the AICC general secretary in charge of Bengal affairs, were present during the meeting with Pranab in his Parliament House chamber. The Congress leaders conveyed the party's consent to contesting the elections together.
Mukherjee also met Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Ghani Khan Choudhury, who endorsed his poll proposal. Pranab, Das Munshi and Ghani Khan will attend a rally the mayor will organise in Calcutta on May 7.
Asked if Khan will be her candidate for mayor, Mamata said the issue was not discussed. 'We have finalised our candidates for all 141 wards except one,' she added. Evidently, the party is yet to decide who would take on Mukherjee.
Asked why she did not initiate action against the mayor, Mamata said: 'Steps will be taken according to the law.'
Party sources said any punishment at this stage could make 'the mayor a martyr'.