Calcutta, May 20: Hours after the Trinamul Congress got the status of principal Opposition following the victory of its candidate from Bhatpara, the party suffered a jolt when its Bongaon MLA, Bhupen Seth, 71, died of a heart attack.
Arjun Singh’s victory yesterday had helped the Trinamul Congress get the required number of 30 MLAs to stake its claim as principal Opposition in the 294-member Assembly. But with Seth’s death, the party’s strength has come down to 29.
“We will have to accept what is destined. It is sad that we lost Bhupenda at this critical juncture,” Mamata Banerjee said today. “But his death will encourage us to retain Bongaon with a larger margin in the byelection.” Seth had defeated CPM’s Pankaj Ghosh by 3,465 votes.
Mamata said Trinamul Congress MLAs would meet tomorrow to choose their leader and decide the course of action to be followed in the Assembly.
Asked whether her party would ask for Opposition status, the Trinamul Congress chief said: “We are not going to plead with the CPM to give us Opposition status. We shall wait for the byelection to retain the Bongaon seat.”
However, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim said he would consider awarding Opposition status to the Trinamul Congress legislature party if it writes to him. “We have no problem recognising the Trinamul Congress as principal Opposition even if it is one short of the 30 mark,” he added.
Hectic lobbying has begun in Trinamul Congress circles for the post of leader of the Opposition, which is equivalent to the rank of cabinet minister.
Though Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, the Trinamul Congress chief whip in the House, is aspiring for the post, Mamata prefers the party’s state unit president, Subrata Bakshi, to be the leader of the Opposition. Bakshi won the Chowringhee seat, defeating former mayor Subrata Mukherjee. If Bakshi is made leader of the Opposition, Chattopadhyay will retain his post as chief whip. Trinamul MLA from Burtala Sadhan Pande is being tipped for the post of chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and Partha Chatterjee may get the post of deputy leader.
Mamata is also working hard to revamp the party at the grassroots for the upcoming byelections to the Malda and Katwa Lok Sabha seats and elections to half-a-dozen municipalities. While the dates for the Lok Sabha byelections are yet to be announced, the municipalities will go to polls in July.
The state BJP today echoed Mamata’s allegation of “high-tech’’ rigging, saying it would move court with an appeal for inspection of the electronic voting machines used in the recent polls. State BJP general secretary Rahul Sinha said his party would also seek the intervention of the President.