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20 May 2018

Trinamul takes back rebel winners

Meghdeep bhattacharyya and Abhijeet Chatterjee, TT, May 19, 2018, Calcutta/ Burdwan/ Bolpur: Trinamul on Friday took back two dissidents who had won panchayat polls as Independents in Birbhum, driven by the realisation that victorious Independents were needed to form several rural bodies and the fear that they could be accommodated by the BJP.

Manira Sultana and Sajeda Bibi from Nalhati I said it was not possible to survive as Independent representatives in rural bodies.

Sultana had won from Bautia gram panchayat and Sajeda Bibi from Kalitha I gram panchayat. Both were re-accommodated in Trinamul by the party's Birbhum chief Anubrata Mondal.

"It is not possible to work for development as Independents. Joining the ruling party makes sense. Besides, I was a Trinamul loyalist anyway," Sultana told The Telegraph.

Sultana and Bibi were among 1,833 Independent winners at the gram panchayat level in Bengal this time, a higher number than what the Left or the Congress were able to secure. Independents also won 114 seats at the panchayat samiti level and two even at the zilla parishad tier.

Such a large number of Independent victories, which several senior leaders in the ruling party described as "unexpected", means that they will play a key role in the formation of boards in many bodies. That has prompted the ruling party to soften its stand and welcome back most of the victorious Independents.

The decision marks a shift from Trinamul's earlier position of punishing disgruntled workers who contested the polls against the party's official candidates. Before the polls, Trinamul had officially promised expulsion of such candidates.

The rethink, said several Trinamul sources, was also necessitated by the prospect of the BJP winning Independents over.

Trinamul chief Mamata Banerjee had indicated on Thursday that many Independent victors had already started contacting her party with the willingness to join. 

In East Burdwan's Memari I and II, a total of 18 Independent candidates from among expelled Trinamul workers won, while the BJP bagged six and the Left one.

One of the victorious Independents from Memari said he wanted to return to Trinamul, but if he was not accepted, he would join the BJP.

"I need a political shelter to grow. If I am not welcome in Trinamul anymore, I will join the BJP, which is the largest Opposition force now," he said.

A senior Trinamul leader who oversaw the elections in a key south Bengal district said the party couldn't risk the Independents strengthening the BJP, which had already won 5,759 seats in gram panchayats, 764 in panchayat samitis and 23 in zilla parishads.

Sources in Trinamul said 3,245 dissidents had contested at the gram panchayat level because of "intense dissatisfaction" with the selection of official candidates.

A senior Trinamul leader said the lists of candidates drawn up by the mother party were discarded at many places in favour of the names proposed by the youth wing. He said even senior leaders had been displeased with the list, but did not dare speak out against the sanction from 30B Harish Chatterjee Street.

"Had so many deserving candidates not been deprived, we would have not had this situation. That many of those candidates could win against all odds, even against the official candidates, was clear from the results," he said.

"That is why, it is important to bring as many of them back now as possible, before further damage," he added.

The BJP sought to mock the "change of heart" by Trinamul and attributed it to Mamata's alleged fear of the saffron surge in the state.

"Trinamul will go to all extremes in a bid to halt our progress, even to the point of rewarding those who betrayed the party over true loyalists. These things will only help us further, not slow us down," said BJP state chief Dilip Ghosh.

Additional reporting by Snehamoy Chakraborty

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