| Friends: Bandopadhyay (top), Mukherjee
Calcutta, March 17: The Congress will back Sudip Bandopadhyay in his attempt to seek re-election from his Calcutta Northwest seat as an Independent after being denied a ticket by the Trinamul Congress.
“We have already held a preliminary discussion with Sudip and a final decision on this score will be taken as soon as possible,” said state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee. The Trinamul rebel is yet to write to the party formally seeking its support, he added.
Asked if he had set any condition for his support, Mukherjee replied in the negative. “The only thing is that an Independent candidate must not join any party after the elections if he or she is elected. I believe Sudip is aware of this,” he said.
Earlier, the Congress was insisting on a written statement from Bandopadhyay accepting Congress president Sonia Gandhi as his leader and criticising the BJP-led NDA. Some state leaders also wanted him to promise that he would not enter into any truck with Mamata Banerjee after the elections.
Bandopadhyay said this afternoon that he was happy with the Congress’ gesture.
“I shall officially seek the Congress’ support in a day or two by calling on Mukherjee and other PCC leaders. I think the Congress’ support will help me retain the seat,” he said.
Bandopadhyay is, however, unwilling to fight with the “hand” symbol and has approached state electoral officer Basudeb Banerjee for another. Congress leaders said the Trinamul rebel was hoping to mop up Trinamul votes by not taking the Congress symbol.
The Congress’ support has not come to Bandopadhyay as an “unmixed blessing” because state leaders will target the Vajpayee government in rallies where he will share the platform with them. “We will highlight the NDA government’s failure in Sudip’s presence. Vajpayee is definitely our main target,” said Somen Mitra, a former state unit chief.
Reacting to the Congress’ decision, Trinamul spokesman Pankaj Banerjee said: “It will only split the anti-CPM votes and has vindicated our contention that the Congress has been serving as the ‘B’ team of the CPM.” He said the party would initiate disciplinary action against Bandopadhyay once he files his nomination.
Trinamul has put up mayor Subrata Mukherjee from the seat and had offered Raigunj to Bandopadhyay.
Nayna, Bandopadhyay’s actress-turned-legislator wife, welcomed the Congress’ decision. “The Congress is an all-India party and its support will definitely help Sudip sail through in the polls,” she said.
Replying to another question, the Trinamul MLA from Bowbazar said she has not yet decided whether to campaign for her husband.
“I shall shortly meet Didi (Mamata) to discuss what I should do at this juncture. I am hurt by some party leaders’ attempt to corner me ever since Sudip decided to contest from his old seat as an Independent candidate. Is it my fault that I got married to Sudip'” she said.