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Mamata stirs no-contest pot
- Not-now option tickles other generals
(From top) Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Mamata Banerjee, Manas Bhuniya

Calcutta, March 2: If, for a change, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee takes a leaf out of Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee’s book, the Bengal elections would turn out to be a battle without the generals.

The generals, of course, would be there, but not fighting themselves. Instead, they would be planning and pushing the overall charge.

The first signal of such a battle was sent out by Mamata herself when she announced today that she would not contest the elections herself but campaign all over the state for her party’s candidates.

Before leaving for Delhi this afternoon, asked whether she would be contesting the polls, Mamata replied: “I can lead the state government if people elect us to power. It is not mandatory to contest the polls. There is a provision of getting elected within six months.”

She added: “All the 294 constituencies are mine, I will campaign. If I contest the polls now, I will not be able to devote as much time as I want to give to the remaining seats.”

Mamata, of course, has never contested the Assembly elections, making her entry into electoral politics in 1984 through the Lok Sabha by defeating CPM stalwart Somnath Chatterjee.

The other general who has given hints of a similar strategy is Pradesh Congress Committee president Manas Bhuniya. He has apparently communicated to his party high command his reluctance to contest the polls in the party’s overall interest.

Asked about this, Bhuniya, who has nursed and won from his Sabang constituency in West Midnapore for four terms, told The Telegraph today: “Who are we to decide who will contest and who won’t? Everything is decided by the party’s high command.”

With chief minister Bhattacharjee, however, the issue still remains somewhat open-ended because the party stands between him and the elections.

According to sources in the CPM, some friends of Bhattacharjee had suggested to him that it would be more prudent for him not to contest the elections from his Jadavpur constituency this year.

For this, they had cited two reasons. First, Bhattacharjee’s friends had told him, the polls to the Lok Sabha in 2009 and last year’s Calcutta Municipal Corporation elections had decisively demonstrated the decline in the popular support for the CPM in the Jadavpur constituency. The seat had turned even more difficult for the CPM after the delimitation exercise.

Second, they pointed out, this Assembly election is the toughest challenge that the CPM faces in Bengal. So, being the key campaigner for the CPM, the chief minister would have little time to spend in his own constituency and instead would have to dedicate himself to campaigning all over the state for his party.

Bhattacharjee, however, dismissed their suggestion saying that if he did so, it would be akin to a general fleeing the battlefield even before the battle had begun. He said his line of thinking was in keeping with what his party also endorsed.

But with Mamata today categorically stating that she would not contest the polls, both Bhattacharjee and his party have an opportunity and an excuse for a rethink on the issue.

Although Bhattacharjee had turned down his friends’ suggestion earlier and his party had approved it, Mamata’s announcement today could reopen the issue.

“The chief minister would have a chance to honourably get out of a sticky situation,” a CPM leader said. “The party as well as Bhattacharjee could well say that the chief minister is merely following a trend set by the Opposition parties.”

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