The Congress yesterday expelled Mamata Bannerjee after she declared that she and her associates would fight the parliamentary polls on a new symbol, which they would seek for the nascent Trinamul Congress.
She, however, did not say whether she would enter into a seat adjustment with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) although the latter had earlier indicated their willingness to negotiate.
The strong action by the Congress high command was calculated to check the rumblings of rebellion in the partys Rajasthan and Punjab units which had already been encouraged by the split in the partys southern units. Action had been delayed partly because Sonia Gandhi intervened to try and hammer out a compromise through which Bannerjee could be accommodated.
Yesterdays expulsion puts further negotiations beyond reach. An aide to Gandhi said she had only got involved because Bannerjee requested it and that Gandhi would do nothing more for the moment. He added, though, that there could be further developments after a few days.
The party had sought to mollify Bannerjee by asking her to chair the campaign committee for the state, but Bannerjees supporters said she had understood that she would be chairman of the election committee with a whip hand on the selection of candidates and not just the partys chief campaigner.
The party cited her refusal to withdraw her statement that the BJP was not a communal force as the reason for expulsion. However, evidently insecure in the wake of recent setbacks across the country, party president Sitaram Kesri chose only to endorse the state units decision that she and her associates be expelled. An AICC member like Bannerjee could not actually be expelled by the state unit.
AICC office bearers said they did not expect any of the partys MPs to go with Bannerjee. They added that she only had the support of about eight of the partys 72 MLAs, not enough for a legal split.
Bannerjee had already filed an affidavit before the Election Commission to register the Trinamul Congress as a separate party on December 17 even as Sonia Gandhi was mediating to keep the state party together.
While announcing her decision to contest on a separate symbol yesterday, she gave a call to like-minded parties to join the Save Bengal Front, an outfit which she launched a few weeks back, within seven days.
She has invited Mani Shankar Aiyar, the leader who has just `disassociated himself from the ruling Congress leadership, to contest the parliamentary polls from Bengal and he has agreed, claimed Mamata. She also expects a few other former Congressmen from other states to fight polls from Bengal.
Bannerjee announced the split when the AICC was still being persuaded by Gandhi to dissolve the state election committee under the state Pradesh Congress Committee in Bengal and hoist Mamata as the chief of a new election committee.
It is too late, said the firebrand leader. I waited for nine long days when Soniaji was trying to mediate. But, the party president, Sitaram Kesri has said that I have been made the chief of only the campaigning committee. Our Trinamul Congress will give a befitting reply.
She did not reveal what may be her election symbol. She also did not name any smaller party who may join the Save Bengal Front.
Mamata was at first evasive on whether she was quitting the Congress party stating repeatedly that the Trinamul Congress was the `real Congress. However, pressed to clarify the affidavit she had filed with the Commission, she admitted that it was for a new party.
The Congress MLAs and municipality councillors who are with her have been advised not to resign their seats and continue as Congress members as a matter of strategy. Obviously, they will lose their position if they join a new party.
Mamata repeatedly said she would re-join Congress if Sonia Gandhi takes charge of the party. The AICC has not honoured Sonia Gandhis wishes by refusing to make me the chief of the state election committee, she alleged.
Kesri has sullied the partys symbol. We are not leaving Congress, but dont accept the present leadership either, she said.
The popular Bengal leader who is accused of changing her mind too often, said, I wont change my decision. If the AICC had been suffering from indecision and therefore could not decide how to honour Sonia Gandhis wishes, dont blame me.
Mamata, however, said that she has told Sonia of her decision to float the new party as `I dont want to embarrass her.
Mamata did not deny that the floating of the Trinamul Congress may brighten the poll fortunes of the CPM and her allies. Kesri will be responsible for any such development, she said.
Mamata did not specify how many of the 42 Bengal parliamentary seats her new party wishes to contest beyond saying `as many as possible.
Kesri has sullied the partys symbol. We are not leaving Congress, but dont accept the present leadership either.
Mamata Bannerjee, expelled Congress leader Firebrand Bengal leader invites former Congress stalwarts like Mani Shankar Aiyar to contest from the state