Manas Bhunia, a former West Bengal Congress chief who crossed over to Trinamool Congress last year, has been named by Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee as one of the party’s nominees to the Rajya Sabha.
Bhunia, a six-term Congress MLA, was suspended from his former party last year after he refused to step down from the post of public accounts committee chairperson in the West Bengal Assembly. The Congress and the Left had decided to make the CPM’s Sujan Chakraborty the PAC chairperson, but Bhunia refused to vacate the post.
On Sunday, after Mamata made public five names for Rajya Sabha nominees on Facebook, Bhunia told The Indian Express: “I am grateful to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for having chosen me to be her soldier and I shall deliver the goods. I have been consistently insulted and humiliated by Congress president Adhir Choudhury and Abdul Mannan. This despite my 46 years of political service, despite being a general secretary and a president and a former cabinet minister. The AICC never intervened on my behalf. It was only Mamata Banerjee who stood by me in troubled times and I am grateful to her.’’
Before the West Bengal Assembly election last year, while state Congress chief Adhir Choudhury backed an understanding with the Left, Bhunia advocated an alliance with the Trinamool. He was overruled. Matters came to a head when in August, he refused to step down from his PAC chairmanship, despite directives of party leaders. Bhunia joined the TMC in September but did not resign from the Congress. His brother, Bikas Ranjan Bhunia, joined the TMC along with 22 other Congress leaders in August 2016.
With Bhunia’s Rajya Sabha nomination, his party affiliation is no longer in doubt.
The other name of interest on Mamata’s list of five names is Shanta Chhetri, a former GNLF leader from Darjeeling who switched to Trinamool before the 2016 Assembly elections. Chhetri’s nomination is an indication of Mamata’s determination to woo voters in the hills where the party has tasted blood recently when it won the Mirik civic elections. The hill areas of Darjeeling district are largely under the influence of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, which wants a state of Gorkhaland to be carved out of West Bengal. Mamata’s government is against this demand.
Chhetri, a three-time former GNLF MLA, had contested in the last Assembly elections from Kurseong but lost. While there have been Gorkha MPs nominated by the Left in the past, Chhetri is the TMC’s first Gorkha Rajya Sabha nominee.
“This is a welcome move and we are grateful that the Chief Minister has chosen one amongst us to represent the TMC in the Rajya Sabha. Shanta Chhetri has also been a pioneer in the movement to implement the Sixth schedule in the Darjeeling hills, which is what the GNLF is fighting for and we are happy that she will take our demand on to a national stage,’’said GNLF spokesperson Neeraj Zimba.
The other three names listed by Mamata on her Facebook post are the party’s Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien, chief whip Sukhendu Shekhar Roy and Dola Sen, also a sitting member.
Former IAS officer Debabrata Bandopadhyay, who has not been well, has not been renominated.
The name that Mamata did not mention on the list but which is doing the rounds is that of Congress spokesperson Sharmistha Mukherjee, the daughter of President Pranab Mukherjee.
There is a provision for a sixth nomination for which the Left and the Congress want to name a common candidate. Mamata has indicated she is not averse to a consensus candidate.
The buzz is that Sharmistha Mukherjee could be nominated for this seat.
West Bengal is represented by 16 MPs in the Rajya Sabha, 12 of whom are from the TMC. Former Bollywood actor Mithun Chakraborty’s resignation last year had left a seat vacant for the party.
The CPM has three Rajya Sabha MPs from Bengal — Sitaram Yechury who has refused to contest again, Tapan Kumar Sen and Ritabrata Banerjee — while the Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Bengal is Pradeep Bhattacharya. Yechury and Bhattacharya’s terms are about to end.