The Congress appears to be veering around to the idea of joining the Mamata Banerjee-led government in West Bengal, with a majority of the 42 newly elected MLAs expressing their desire to participate in it. Officially, however, the party has made no announcement as yet, even though Ms. Banerjee, who was in the capital on Monday to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, told journalists that the Congress would be part of her government.
The Congress sources said that Ms. Banerjee had invited both Ms. Gandhi and Dr. Singh to her swearing in ceremony, slated for May 20, but that the latter had expressed his inability to make the journey to Kolkata. However, these sources added that Ms. Gandhi would, in all likelihood, attend the historic swearing-in, which would see the end of 34 years of Left rule in West Bengal.
The Trinamool Congress chief, who flew into Delhi on Sunday night, arrived to meet Ms. Gandhi at her 10, Janpath residence on Monday afternoon, with a large bouquet of red roses. Beaming, she emerged a while later, saying, “We have a good relationship with the Congress right from the days of Rajiv Gandhi. Our personal relationship with Soniaji is also good.”
Asked who would replace her in the Union Cabinet, she said, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh would decide who would be the next Railway Minister, but that the Trinamool would like it to stay with the party.
On whether Trinamool general secretary Mukul Roy could be the next Railway Minister, she said he had accompanied her to Ms. Gandhi's residence as he was available in the city. “He did not attend my meeting with Sonia Gandhi,” she stressed, adding, “he was outside. He is here because we will have to give details of election [expenditure] to the Election Commission.”
Earlier in the day, Shakeel Ahmed, the Congress functionary in-charge of West Bengal, met Ms. Gandhi to apprise her of the feelings of the newly elected MLAs, party MPs and the PCC leaders on whether the party should join the government. Mr. Ahmed was in Kolkata over the weekend, along with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
Party sources that while the majority in the West Bengal State unit wanted to join the government, the few who would like to support the Trinamool government from outside include State president Manas Bhunia, who was re-elected from Sabong. Mr. Bhunia's views are shared by some Central leaders, too.
Those in favour of joining the government say it will strengthen the party organisation in the State, where it has not been in power since 1977. The other section feels that the Congress should support the government from outside as with its limited numbers in the Assembly, it will not be able to influence major policy decisions. Instead, the party should strive to create an independent identity for itself in West Bengal.