How West Bengal Rajya Sabha Polls are Shaping the Battle for Presidency

New Delhi: Two powerful regional satraps have so far firmly backed President Pranab Mukherjee for a second term in office. Both Mamata Banerjee and Nitish Kumar have been unequivocal in their support for the octogenarian leader.

Playing out very subtly in the ongoing shadow dancing on Presidential Polls is an election in West Bengal which may well define the contours of the anti-BJP front at the national level.

Nominations for the six Rajya Sabha seats from the state will begin later this month, and the ruling Trinamool Congress is in a position to send 5 nominees to the Upper House of the Parliament.

The politics for the sixth seat has, however, taken a curious turn. Forty-two first preference votes are required to get elected to the Rajya Sabha from West Bengal. The Congress had two more than the stipulated benchmark.

It’s a wafer-thin margin, and a few votes here and there can lead to embarrassment at a time when the Congress’ fortunes are at an all-time low.

Earlier, the Congress had proposed to back CPM General Secretary Sitaram Yechury to the lone non-TMC seat from the state. With CPM turning down the offer, TMC has moved in quickly to use this opportunity to further isolate the Left in West Bengal, thereby also in national politics.

Sources suggest that TMC is willing to support the Congress candidate for a comfortable victory in the Rajya Sabha polls. And amid this political jostling, one person who seems to have suddenly emerged as a serious contender for the Upper House seat from the Congress quota is President Pranab Mukherjee’s daughter, Sharmistha.

TMC sources suggest the party is not averse to backing the Delhi Congress leader who joined politics a few years ago. Sharmistha Mukherjee has since been active in Delhi politics. She contested and lost the last assembly polls from Greater Kailash seat in South Delhi.

Mamata Banerjee’s recent advice to the state unit “not to speak about the Congress” is being seen as an indication of changing dynamics in the West Bengal politics. During her recent visit to Delhi, TMC chief had held a meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice-President Rahul on Presidential Polls and current political situation.

These disruptions in the state politics have set the cat among the pigeons within the West Bengal unit of the Congress. The party in the last general elections had informally aligned with the Left. The residual leadership in the party after Mamata broke away more than a decade back is primarily averse to any truck with the TMC. This section has had reservations about aligning with an off-shoot of the Congress which has grown bigger than the mother-party over the years.

This is why there are reports that the Congress legislature party had sought high command should consult the state unit before nominating anyone for the Rajya Sabha. State President Adhir Ranjan Choudhury is a fierce adversary for Mamata Banerjee and has never seen the TMC leader eye to eye.

A section in the Congress is also pushing for a neutral candidate, acceptable to all. Former Supreme Court Judge Ashok Ganguli’s candidature is thus being floated by a section of the Congress to offset any moves which may lead to a TMC-Congress alliance.

First Published: May 20, 2017, 8:30 PM IST