Her government may have faced the tantrums of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee but Congress President Sonia Gandhi is clear on giving a long rope to Banerjee's party in West Bengal.
Acting against the wishes of the entire state unit of the Congress and even senior central leaders, Gandhi decided to give two prestigious Assembly seats, Sealdah and Bowbazar, to the TC, on Saturday night. Byelections to these seats are slated for this month.
On Saturday night, towards the end of the core committee meeting of the party, Gandhi bluntly told the Union finance minister and the chief of the party's West Bengal unit, Pranab Mukherjee, to withdraw candidates from these two seats. The Congress has been winning these for the past 30-40 years.
Mukherjee told Business Standard, "Mrs Gandhi believes that at a time when the opposition parties are victims of political killings in the state, it will be a grave signal to break the alliance and contest against each other."
During the Lok Sabha elections too, Gandhi had rejected the objections of the state unit and forged an alliance with Banerjee on latter's terms. Banerjee kept the lion's share of seats for her party and the Congress was given just 14 out of 42 seats of the state.
"The Congress president has always maintained close relations with the TC chief. Although she was irked at the way TC MPs boycotted the passing of the Finance Bill, she favours a long-term working relationship with Banerjee," said a Congress minister. Banerjee had also stalled land acquisition amendment Bills in the Cabinet recently.
While the state unit of the party is strongly opposed to the way Banerjee's wishes are being granted, Gandhi is making it clear that she considers her more important than her own party unit's demands. Congress' internal assessment has also suggested that if there is a triangular contest among the Left, the TC and the Congress, the Congress will lose miserably in the Assembly bypolls. Gandhi also indicated she was in no mood to give an edge to the Left ahead of the 2011 Assembly
However, this was not the situation till Friday evening as Congress candidates had already filed their nominations against the TC candidates on these two seats and Mukherjee had told his confidents that the Congress would contest. But in the evening, Gandhi stepped in and ruled in favour of Banerjee.
Mukherjee refused to entertain the suggestion that Congress workers would lose their morale. "The morale could have been high till August 18, the day of polling. But where will be the morale of our supporters after we lose?" said Mukherjee. Gandhi was also given the feedback that many local "big leaders" were asked by the party to contest but they backed out due to fear of defeat.