West Bengal's ruling Trinamool Congress on Friday extended its support to Congress candidate Pradip Bhattacharya for the coming Rajya Sabha polls, opening up possibilities of a new political alignment in the state.
While the Trinamool has nominated five candidates, Bhattacharya and Left Front nominee Bikash Bhattacharya entered the contest on Friday, making it a seven horse race for the six seats.
"All five of our candidates will win. And we will support Congress' Pradip Bhattacharya for the sixth seat," Banerjee told media persons in the state Assembly after parleys with the Congress aspirant and the Leader of Opposition Abdul Mannan.
Emerging from the discussions, Bhattacharya took potshots at the Left Front for fielding Bikash Bhattacharya.
"Those with whom we were in discussions, who had given their word, we had expected their backing and help," he said.
However, LF Chairman Biman Bose told the media earlier on Friday that the coalition had to take a last-minute decision to field Bikash Bhattacharya after the Congress renominated sitting member Pradip Bhattacharya.
A few months back, there were talks of the Congress supporting CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, if nominated by the party. However, Yechury's candidature was shot down by his own party's Central Committee.
"We were trying to zero in on an outstanding personality outside the periphery of party politics as a common candidate acceptable to all quarters (read Congress and LF). We lost two days looking for such a candidate," Bose said.
"We had no idea that Pradip Bhattacharya is contesting. That was announced unilaterally by them (Congress). So, we had to hold an emergency meeting and decide our candidate," he added.
But the Chief Minister snapped at the LF.
"Why are they saying he (Bikash) is apolitical? He is not an apolitical person. He functioned as Kolkata Mayor when the LF ran the Kolkata Corporation."
But on the other hand, state Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, known for his antipathy to the Trinamool, downplayed the significance of the RS poll tie-up between the two.
"We have given our candidate. Who is supporting or not is their problem? If Trinamool has the guts, they can put up a candidate. They are supporting us, because they know their sixth candidate will not win," he said.
As per the West Bengal assembly arithmetic, the five Trinamool candidates — Derek O'Brien, Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, Dola Sen, Manas Bhunia and Santa Chettri — are expected to sail through on the strength of the party's numbers.
The focus will now be on the sixth seat, for which Pradip Bhattacharya and Bikash Bhattacharya would duel it out.
After losing some of their lawmakers to the Trinamool, the Congress and Communist Party of India-Marxist are for all practical purposes left with 36 and 31 legislators respectively.
Though except Bhunia, none of the other eight party-hoppers have put in their papers, they are likely to vote as per the Trinamool diktat.
The Trinamool won 211 seats in the assembly polls, and are now assured of the support of eight other lawmakers.
To win, a candidate needs 42 first preference votes in the 293-member assembly, the electoral college for the Rajya Sabha polls. With the Trinamool now extending support to the Congress, Pradip Bhattacharya looks favourite to make the cut with the help of the surplus votes of the ruling party.
To queer Bikash Bhattacharya's pitch further, there were some speculation that his candidacy could be cancelled due to some delay in filing some of the documents. If that does happen, there won't be any election, with all six nominees winning uncontested.
Banerjee, a staunch opponent of the Centre's ruling BJP, has been for some time calling for a united fight against it.
The Trinamool and the Congress joined hands for the recent presidential elections and the coming Vice Presidential polls.
The two parties had forged an alliance for the 2009 Lok Sabha and the 2011 state assembly elections, that brought the 34-year Left Front rule to an end. But the alliance came apart in 2011.
In the assembly polls last year, the Left Front and the Congress had cobbled up an alliance, which, however, came a cropper.
Friday's developments could prove a dampener on any coming together of the two in the near future.