The Congress is yet to decide on whether it will participate in the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal, where it has won 42 Assembly seats. The indecision is not surprising, given the Congress' perennial dilemma of whether to focus on rebuilding its organisation in States where its presence has shrunk, such as West Bengal, or to enjoy power, even though as a junior partner.
Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and senior Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed flew down to Kolkata on Saturday to hold discussions with State leaders and newly elected MLAs on the subject before taking a final decision with the national leadership.
“The Congress will unconditionally support the next government that will be formed under the leadership of Ms. Banerjee,” Mr. Ahmed told journalists, adding, “But on the question of joining the government, we had said it will be decided after the results in consultation with our State leadership in West Bengal, the newly elected legislators; and on their feedback, the Central leadership of the Congress will take a final call.”
The subject came up at the meeting of the Congress core group here on Friday evening when the party's top leaders reviewed the election results.
Party sources say there are two views on the issue of joining the West Bengal government: the local leaders, who have not been in power in the State since 1977 when Siddharth Shankar Ray was Chief Minister, are keen to get back into the saddle.
The party's central strategists, on the other hand, feel it makes more sense to support Ms. Banerjee's government from outside as they feel she may not prove to be a good administrator. In that case, they think, the Congress could try and step into an opposition role, and rebuild itself in the State. Also, with the Trinamool having won a majority on its own — with 184 seats in its kitty — the Congress is concerned it might be fobbed off with minor portfolios.
Simultaneously, the party has the happy task of installing governments in Assam and Kerala. While Mr. Mukherjee and party general secretary Digvijay Singh have been named central observers for Assam, party leaders Madhusudan Mistry and Mohsina Kidwai are the observers for Kerala.
In Assam, Tarun Gogoi, who has headed the Congress government in the State for two terms, will be the Chief Minister again, while in Kerala, the leader will be chosen on Sunday by the newly elected MLAs. The front-runner in the State, according to party sources, is Oomen Chandy, who was the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly for the last five years.
The Congress, party sources said, was keen to swear in the new government in Kerala by Monday, as it wishes to project an image of a cohesive coalition, especially as its majority is wafer-thin.
The Congress leadership will also have to restructure its Tamil Nadu unit, following the resignation of State president K.V. Thangkabalu in the wake of the party's abysmal showing, plummeting from the 34 it held to just five now. Party sources said the poor results were the outcome of the fact that its local leaders were engaged not just in fighting the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, its ally, over the developments in the 2G scam, but also among themselves.
Mr. Thangkabalu, who accepted “moral responsibility” for the defeat, is being held responsible for poor selection of candidates and ineffective leadership by Central leaders from the State. He had filed nomination papers from the Mylapore Assembly constituency as a dummy candidate for his wife, and then became the candidate after his wife's candidature was rejected. He, however, lost to the AIADMK's R. Rajalakshmi.