Putting an end to all speculation, the Congress party today announced that it would not field a candidate against West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in the upcoming Bhabanipur bypoll which she is contesting later this month. Nor would the Congress campaign against her.
The Left Front, which had earlier today said that if the Congress did not contest, then it was ready to, is yet to react to this latest Congress position. The two were in alliance for the West Bengal Assembly elections held earlier this year. Both drew a blank.
“The Congress feels that by fielding a candidate against the Chief Minister, it may indirectly help the BJP in some way and the high command does not want to do that,” West Bengal Congress chief and MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told NDTV.
The decision from New Delhi came a day after Mr Chowdhury, who had earlier advocated not fielding a candidate as a matter of courtesy, said many leaders of the state party did not agree with him.
“A majority of our members were in favour of contesting against Trinamool. we finally asked the high command decide,” the Congress leader had said at a press conference in Kolkata yesterday, according to PTI.
Addressing the media around 8 pm this evening in his constituency Behrampore in Murshidabad district, he said, “It has been decided by the party’s top leadership not to contest against Mamata Banerjee. We will not campaign against her either.”
The Congress’s categorical position comes amid a growing bonhomie with the Trinamool.
On 28 July, Ms Banerjee met Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in Delhi and urged opposition unity ahead of the 2024 General elections. More recently, she attended a virtual meeting of all opposition parties called by Ms Gandhi, aimed at building momentum for the Lok Sabha polls.
The Chief Minister urged all parties to work towards defeating the BJP and proposed setting up a core group to chalk out a joint programme.
The Bhabanipur bypoll will be held on September 30. Ms Banerjee is contesting it as she has to get elected to the state Assembly by November 4 — within six months of taking charge as Chief Minister, which she did on May 5.
She lost the Nandigram assembly seat to her former aide, the BJP’s Suvendu Adhikari, in the legislative polls held earlier this year.
Bhabanipur has been a Trinamool stronghold and Ms Banerjee herself has won polls from there twice in the past. This year, she decided to fight from Nandigram and named veteran Trinamool leader Shobhandeb Chattopadhyay as candidate in her former constituency.
Soon after winning the polls, Mr Chattopadhyay, the state Agriculture Minister, resigned as Bhabanipur MLA, making way for his boss.