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Congress tests RS Independent option

- Party requests retired teacher to contest with its backing, Left keeps support door open

Calcutta, Jan. 22: The state Congress today approached a retired professor to contest the Rajya Sabha polls as an Independent, the move yet to get the high command’s approval but raising the possibility of scuppering a Trinamul nominee’s chances.

The Left Front, which has to transfer its additional votes to ensure the election of the candidate supported by the Congress, said it was inclined to consider such an option if the person contested as an Independent, not on a Congress ticket.

Retired professor Hossainur Rahman, who had been close to Siddhartha Shankar Ray and Atulya Ghosh but never held any post in the Congress, said he was approached by state party chief Pradip Bhattacharya to contest as an Independent for the February 7 polls.

If Rahman, 79, enters the fray with the backing of both the Congress and the Left, Trinamul will not be able to see through the candidate it has fielded beyond its means.

Trinamul has announced the names of actor Mithun Chakraborty, artist Jogen Chowdhury, sitting Rajya Sabha member from Jharkhand K.D. Singh and Kalam editor Ahmed Hassan as its Rajya Sabha candidates. However, the party will fall short of the required number by four votes in case of Hassan, the fourth candidate, if the state Congress’s move gets the high command’s nod.

A candidate needs 49 votes to be declared elected from the 294-member Bengal Assembly. The figure is arrived at by dividing the number of Assembly seats by the Rajya Sabha vacancies plus one. For Bengal, it will be 294/6. Trinamul has the support of 192 MLAs — which means three of its candidates will be elected by exhausting 147 votes. The party will then be left with 45 surplus votes — four short of the required 49 to see the fourth candidate through.

The Left, with 60 legislators, will have 11 surplus votes after getting one candidate elected. The Congress has 39 legislators. If the Left gives its surplus votes to the Congress or vice versa, one candidate can be elected with 50 votes.

In 2008, the Left and the Congress had collaborated to elect former Azand Hind editor Ahmad Saeed Malihabadi to the upper House.

Rahman, who retired as head of the modern history department of Hooghly Mohsin College in 1994, told The Telegraph tonight: “Pradip Bhattacharya called me up today and asked me if I was willing to contest a Rajya Sabha seat as an Independent. I told him I have no objections provided I am chosen as a consensus candidate.”

State Congress chief Bhattacharya said he had approached Rahman but refused to elaborate.

An AICC leader said over the phone from Delhi that no decision had been taken on fielding a candidate or backing an Independent. “The decision will be taken at the highest level,” he said.

Asked if he hoped the Left would transfer its votes to him, Rahman said. “I have got a positive message from the Left on backing my candidature for the upper House.”

The retired professor said he had “agreed to be a consensus candidate” because eminent personalities from various walks of life were sent to the upper House.

“Having been in the field of education for 25 long years, I am confident about serving the society to the best of my ability provided I am elected to the Rajya Sabha as an Independent,” he added.

CPM state secretariat member Mohammad Salim said tonight that the party was “averse” to supporting a Congress candidate.

“Professor Rahman has strong secular credentials and is a renowned academic. But if he contests on a Congress ticket, we will have reservations about supporting him. However, if he contests as an Independent and seeks our extra votes, we may consider the matter,” he said.

Salim said the CPM state secretariat would meet tomorrow to decide on its Rajya Sabha nominee and the possibility of transferring votes.

A Trinamul leader said if the Congress and the Left joined hands on the issue, “it would be proved yet again that the Congress is the B-team of the CPM”.