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CPM split over RS nominee

Calcutta, Jan. 23: The CPM state secretariat was today divided over the choice of the Left’s lone candidate for the Rajya Sabha polls, failing to make a selection even after daylong deliberations.

CPM sources said the toss-up was between former finance minister Asim Dasgupta and SFI all-India general secretary Ritabrata Banerjee. The name of former Calcutta mayor Bikash Ranjan Bhattacharyya also cropped up, the sources added.

Till late this evening, it was learnt that the majority of the members of the state secretariat, the highest policy-making body of the CPM in Bengal, were in favour of Dasgupta. Politburo member and the leader of the CPM in the Rajya Sabha, Sitaram Yechury, is “strongly backing” Banerjee, a leader said.

The sharp differences over the choice of the candidate for the February 7 elections prompted Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to call up Yechury thrice during the day to inform him about the opposition to Banerjee’s nomination. Bhattacharjee sought Yechury’s “final opinion” in the third call, an Alimuddin Street source said this evening.

“Sitaram made it clear to Buddhada that he was all for Ritabrata. His logic was that Ritabrata, being the all-India SFI general secretary, was in pretty good touch with national politics. He said the nomination of a young leader like Ritabrata would send the right signal to the youths in the party,” the source said.

The CPM politburo had met in Delhi on January 22-23 to briefly discuss the Rajya Sabha candidates from Bengal and Tamil Nadu. It had been decided that the Bengal CPM state secretariat would decide on the state’s candidate and get it approved by the central leadership.

Although former cricketer Sourav Ganguly’s name has been mentioned, sources said it could not have proceeded beyond an informal stage. Neither could it have been for the solitary assured seat. The CPM, a structured party, is not known for offering an assured seat to an outsider.

The CPM will have some excess votes after ensuring the victory of one candidate. But even on this, the party is expected to support an “independent” candidate, possibly endorsed by the Congress, from the minority community. The Trinamul’s fourth candidate — the party can ensure the victory of three in the event of a contest — is from the minority community.

A CPM leader said those in favour of Dasgupta, whose name had also been mentioned in the context of the Lok Sabha polls, had highlighted his academic credentials, his experience as finance minister and his potential to emerge as a “credible” parliamentarian.

“Asim and Ritabrata are both party state committee members. But Asim’s credentials are far better than Ritabrata’s. Asim is a man of knowledge with a deep understanding of the national economy. It would be nice if people like Asim go to the upper House,” a senior state secretariat member said at today’s meeting.

CPM leaders Dipak Dasgupta, Madan Ghosh and Nripen Chowdhury strongly argued against Banerjee’s candidature, the source said.

“Many state secretariat members said his alleged involvement in the attack on finance minister Amit Mitra in Delhi last year had tarnished his image,” the source said.

Another source said CPM state secretary Biman Bose, former chief minister Bhattacharjee and leader of the Opposition Surjya Kanta Mishra had taken a neutral stand on the candidate, but were “slightly tilted” towards a choice between former mayor Bhattacharyya and Dasgupta.

A proposal to field Banerjee for the Lok Sabha elections in case he is not selected as the Rajya Sabha candidate is also being considered.

Some leaders, the sources said, are of the opinion that Gautam Deb could be a suitable candidate for the Rajya Sabha berth. A few others, however, said Deb, whose name was not discussed at the meeting, was leading the CPM clawback in North 24-Parganas and it would not be prudent to remove him as the district secretary for the Rajya Sabha assignment.