Siliguri, May 4: At least 20 newly elected Left councillors moved to different locales in the Darjeeling hills and the Dooars on a day Mamata Banerjee landed in Siliguri amid murmurs that the Trinamul Congress was trying to derail the CPM's bid to form the municipal board.
Arabinda Ghosh, a former Trinamul leader and the sole Independent winner of the Siliguri Municipal Corporation polls, also stayed away from Siliguri through the day. Ghosh can tilt the balance if he allies with the Left. (See chart)
The chief minister reached Siliguri this afternoon on an official assignment to flag off relief trucks for quake-hit Nepal and is scheduled to hold an administrative meeting tomorrow at Jalpaiguri.
She met the new councillors from her party in a sultry Siliguri, which clocked a maximum temperature of 34°C.
But a group of Left councillors, including former minister and the mayoral candidate Asok Bhattacharya, soaked up the chill in Darjeeling. Another group enjoyed the pleasant Dooars weather, where the mercury dipped after a shower. A handful among the victorious Left flock, however, stayed back in Siliguri.
Bhattacharya, credited with leading the Left's standout performance in Siliguri, said he and his team had left town to relax after a gruelling poll season.
But a section of Left leaders confirmed in private that the representatives had moved out of Siliguri to foil any attempt by Trinamul to wean away some of them.
Mamata Banerjee is greeted by Narayan Khadka, the urban development minister of Nepal, at Kakarvitta, 40km from Siliguri
CPM councillor Shankar Ghosh clicks an “usie” as Asok Bhattacharya (second from right) and others pose at the Mall in Darjeeling on Monday. Pictures by Kundan Yolmo and Suman Tamang
"We have come to Darjeeling to spend a day of leisure after the civic polls. Also, we are apprehensive that Trinamul, which is resorting to all sorts of unethical means to stop us from forming the civic board and is acting against the mandate of Siliguri's residents, might implicate us in false police cases," Bhattacharya said over the phone from Darjeeling this afternoon.
"They have realised that only by arresting us and keeping us behind bars can they stop us from forming the board. That is why we have moved out. There is no other reason behind our trip," he added.
Along with Bhattacharya, party leaders and victorious candidates like Mukul Sengupta, Shankar Ghosh, Snigdha Hazra and Sharadindu Chakraborty went to Darjeeling.
Sources in Darjeeling confirmed that the CPM leaders had booked at least 10 rooms in a hotel in the hill town.
"Another group of Left Front winners has moved to the Dooars. As far as we know, Dilip Singh (the victorious CPM candidate from Ward 42) has stayed back as he lost his mother today. Also, Nurul Islam (former leader of the Opposition and the victorious CPM candidate from Ward 45) has stayed back in Siliguri as his mother-in-law is ill," said a CPM source.
Mukul Sengupta, who has arrived in Darjeeling with his daughter and wife, said he was enjoying the trip.
"My daughter studies outside. She has come home, so all of us have come to Darjeeling. We are enjoying the trip after the toil during the polls," Sengupta said.
The en masse departure of the Left candidates from Siliguri, Trinamul sources said, betrayed jitters in the Opposition camp. "This is a desperate bid to keep the flock together.... Have you heard anything like this ever in Bengal?" asked a Trinamul leader in Calcutta.
Bengal may not have seen elected representatives being herded into hotels or resorts but in undivided Andhra Pradesh, MLAs were ring-fenced in a five-star hotel before N.T. Rama Rao formed the government in the early 1980s. There have been similar examples of legislators being lodged in resorts and hotels in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
In the Siliguri polls, Trinamul has won only 17 of the 47 seats and the party needs the support of seven more councillors to form the board.
"As there is speculation that we will try to bring in more councillors on board, the Left leaders took no risk and decided to move out of Siliguri," said a local Trinamul leader.
Arabinda Ghosh, the lone Independent winner, was not in town amid suggestions that Mamata might meet him.
"I left Siliguri in the morning to attend some family programmes and on some business. I am in Lataguri (in the Dooars) and might return home tonight," Ghosh said over the phone.
"Nobody has contacted me (from Trinamul) so far. I have not made any contact with them, either," he added in response to a question.
Mamata has proposed Nantu Paul's name (the victorious candidate from Ward 12) as the leader of Trinamul in the Siliguri Municipal Corporation.
Asked about his party's plans, minister Goutam Deb said: "In due course, it will be clear what role Trinamul will play at the SMC. The chief minister met our candidates today and passed on some specific instructions to them," he said.