| Mamata Banerjee flanked by party colleagues in Calcutta. Picture by Pradip Sanyal
Calcutta, May 23: Trinamul Congress today found itself on the edge as leader Mamata Banerjee and MP Sudip Bandopadhyay continued to claw each other over getting into the Union Cabinet, which will be expanded tomorrow.
Tipped as a near-certain entrant into the Centre for a second time after a space of more than two years, Mamata lobbied today through her interlocutors in Delhi for a heavyweight ministry. But till late evening, the former railway minister failed to break much ice.
She deferred her departure for Delhi till tomorrow morning and did not receive the customary “come over for the occasion” call from the Prime Minister’s Office. Mamata is expected to leave by the morning flight, with city mayor Subrata Mukherjee, MP Akbar Ali Khondakar and Mukul Roy — members of her core team now — in tow.
The team members indicated that their leader having expressed “strong reservation” about the offer of coal ministry — because it was not offered with mines and is usually looked after by a minister of state with independent charge — was pinning hopes on last-minute lobbying.
Trinamul insiders said Mamata cancelled her ticket on an evening flight after learning that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee will chair a meeting later in the evening to finalise the portfolios.
Even as Mamata led a procession of Trinamul MLAs, councillors and supporters from Mayo Road to Esplanade today to protest the “terror tactic” unleashed by the CPM in the panchayat election, she waited eagerly for a call from NDA convener George Fernandes, or the PMO.
Mamata’s relations with Bandopadhyay have been strained in the recent past and going by indications, the party chief has decided to be the only minister from Trinamul at the Centre.
Sources in the party said if a second berth is offered, and accepted, she will look at a band of candidates from Nitish Sengupta to Khondakar to Dinesh Trivedi, a Rajya Sabha MP. They added that Mamata found the proposal to make Bandopadhyay a minister “incompatible”.
Sources close to Bandopadhyay, now in Delhi, said the MP from Calcutta Northwest was confident that he would be inducted into the Cabinet if a second berth was offered. “People today don’t remember his (Bandopadhyay) contributions and sacrifices for Trinamul,” they said.
A source said there was pressure from groups close to deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani to accept Bandopadhyay as a minister of state. But Mukherjee and MLA Saugata Roy were believed to be among those persuading Mamata against it.