The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong catches Panja cold

Calcutta, May 26: Mamata Banerjee’s visit to a Salt Lake nursing home last Saturday to see suspended and ailing Trinamul Congress MP Ajit Panja has put the Congress in a spot. The courtesy call came when the Congress leadership was working overtime to get Panja back to his parent party.

Panja’s daughter Mohua Mondal is the Congress candidate in next month’s byelection for the Vidyasagar Assembly constituency and the suspended Trinamul leader, now in London for treatment, is scheduled to campaign for her.

After Mamata’s trip to the nursing home, the Congress leadership is left thinking whether their bid to rope in Panja would be frustrated. A section of the leaders felt better relations between Panja and Mamata might also queer the pitch for Mondal in next month’s byelection.

Mamata stoked the possibility of a patch-up with Panja saying he was free to discuss matters to iron out the problems between them.

“I went to visit Ajitda on humanitarian grounds. He was sick and would be away in London. I hope he gets well and returns soon. Please don’t try to read politics in it. Our door is always open for discussion with him,” Mamata had said.

However, Congress leaders like former party president Somen Mitra do not attach much importance to Mamata’s meeting with Panja. “There is no harm in (Mamata’s) visiting a senior political leader who is ailing. Ajitda’s daughter Mohua is an adult lady and she is our candidate in the bypoll. They are two different things,” said Mitra.

Sources in the Congress said Panja had reached a stage where it was “virtually impossible” to return to Mamata’s fold. “Don’t forget she partly blames Ajitda for Trinamul’s not-so-good performance in the last Assembly poll. Trinamul’s poll prospects went on reverse gear after Ajitda openly revolted in April 2001,” said a state Congress official.

But Trinamul insiders felt Mamata had a “plan” up her sleeves. “She may want to block Sudip Bandopadhyay’s chances of becoming a minister by suggesting Panja’s name for the Union Cabinet. Panja stands a better chance as he was in the ministry before Mamata quit the NDA in 2001,” said a party functionary.

But Congress sources said the once-bitter relations between state party chief Pranab Mukherjee and Panja has improved and Mondal’s candidature was a step towards Panja’s “return”.

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