New Delhi: Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had given the Congress high command the option of fielding senior party leader Ahmed Patel for Rajya Sabha from West Bengal but Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi eventually turned down the offer, according to a Trinamool leader close to Mamata.
A senior Congress leader told The Indian Express that it was important for Patel to not be seen as running away from his home turf. That, the leader said, is important to keep up the morale of the party’s local units months before Gujarat goes to Assembly elections.
Mamata’s offer, according to the source, came before the Congress’s current disarray in Gujarat — after Leader of Opposition in Assembly Shankersinh Vaghela quit the party, as many as six Congress MLAs left last week, which the party alleges was the handiwork of the ruling BJP. Scrambling to retain the remaining 44 MLAs, the Congress flew them to Congress-governed Karnataka.
Three seats are up for grabs from Gujarat in the Rajya Sabha polls on August 8. While BJP president Amit Shah and Union minister Smriti Irani are expected to win two, the Congress has fielded Ahmed Patel, who is in contention for a fifth term in the Upper House. Forty-five votes are required to win the election from Gujarat.
The BJP has also fielded former Congress MLA Balwantsinh Rajput, who joined BJP on Thursday.
“All of this could have been avoided. Mamata Banerjee had made it clear to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi that if he is nominated from Bengal, Ahmed Patel would have the full might of the Trinamool Congress behind him,” the source close to the chief minister said.
“Mamata wanted a senior Parliamentarian with experience and the gravitas to take on the might of BJP in Parliament. She felt someone like Ahmed Patel was ideal for this,” the source added.
The TMC subsequently said it would support Congress’ Pradip Bhattacharya for the sixth seat. Mamata had earlier stated, “All five of our candidates will win, and we will support Pradip Bhattacharya for the sixth seat.”
An AICC leader said, “The Congress is right now being hit by the BJP in very non-Parliamentary ways. They will stoop to any level to try and stop Ahmed Patel from going to the Rajya Sabha. For them, it will be a symbolic victory ahead of the Gujarat elections. But that is also the reason why it is important for him to contest from Gujarat.”
The Congress leader said, “It must not appear that Ahmed Patel is scared to contest elections from his home state. That will be very bad for the morale of the state Congress and could trigger more defections.”