Bengal Congress eyes cabinet berths; ministers to resign from Mamata government today

Bengal Congress eyes cabinet berths; ministers to resign from Mamata government today
Kolkata:  In a veritable tit-for-tat, the Congress is all set to pull out its ministers from the West Bengal government today, in response to the withdrawal of support by the Trinamool Congress - its senior partner in the state - from the government at the Centre.

All six ministers from the Congress, led by Irrigation Minister Manash Bhuiyan, will meet Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee - who is the also the Trinamool boss - at 5 pm at Writers' Building to submit their resignation. They will subsequently meet Governor MK Narayanan an hour later to officially withdraw support to the state government.

"We have decided. We have got all our ministers and they have attended our meeting...Our programme today is to go to the Governor to express our views and our ministers will withdraw support from this Government," state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya told reporters, after emerging from a party meeting at Bidhan Bhavan in Kolkata. On Friday, Mr Bhattacharya had said, "The resignation of the six Congress ministers is in reply to what the TMC ministers did in Delhi."

Even as the party is readying to end its partnership with the Trinamool in West Bengal, its state unit has already set its sights on the Union Cabinet. The Bengal Congress wrote a letter to party chief Sonia Gandhi on Friday, demanding more ministers from the state at the Centre. Party members, in the letter, said that the state deserves political and ministerial representation in a proportionate way. It has also asked for at least three ministers from among its MPs, including a suitable cabinet berth.

The state earlier boasted of eight ministers at the Centre with seven of them belonging to the Trinamool while one was from the Congress. Later, Trinamool leader Dinesh Trivedi's resignation as the Railways Minister and the subsequent election of Congress veteran Pranab Mukherjee - earlier the Finance Minister - as the President of India brought that tally down to six. With the latest pullout by the Trinamool from the union government, the state doesn't have any representation at the Centre.

The demand from the Bengal Congress reportedly came after six ministers from the Trinamool Congress tendered their resignations to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday and later, formally ended their alliance with the Congress-led UPA government after a meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee. The Congress had, in its reply, immediately announced that it would follow suit and sever ties with the Trinamool in the state. The party has two cabinet ministers and four ministers of state in the West Bengal government.

Earlier, Congress ministers had begun to skip cabinet meetings ever since Ms Banerjee announced that she was pulling out of the UPA government at the Centre. The Trinamool-Congress relationship in West Bengal has not been an easy one and was so far held together tenuously only by the tie-up at the Centre. The two parties have clashed incessantly in the state, often going public with attacks on each other.

In her state, Ms Banerjee has majority on her own with 184 seats and does not need the Congress' support. The Left only has 40 seats and the Congress with 60 will now become the principal opposition party in the state. With the Congress sitting in the opposition hereafter and contesting elections like the panchayat polls on its own, some splitting of votes is expected. The Trinamool and Congress had a pre-poll alliance in West Bengal.

(With inputs from PTI)

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