Panja's revolt

Print edition : June 09, 2001

EVEN while criticising Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee and her supporters within the party, Ajit Kumar Panja, one of the founders of the party, praised the Left Front government for its new policies and for its identification of thrust areas for development. "The utterances of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee clearly show a silver lining. The fact that he has placed primary importance on health and industry is a good sign," he told Frontline. Panja also said that the Chief Minister had shown "maturity in his behaviour and functioning". He added: "I also think it was very decent of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Anil Biswas and Biman Basu to invite me personally to the swearing-in ceremony and make sure that I had received the invitation." While Panja attended the ceremony, Mamata Banerjee boycotted it, calling it a black day for West Bengal.

Criticising Mamata Banerjee for her behaviour after the elections, Panja said: "Her going to Delhi to lodge a complaint against Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill's alleged 'malpractice' is nothing more than another gimmick. Once the elections are over, according to the Representation of the People Act, 1951, neither the President nor the Prime Minister can do anything about it. Instead of making the law and order situation a primary issue, she is raking up an issue that the Centre can do nothing about." However, Panja too alleged that the polls were not conducted in a free and fair manner. "Rigging is putting it mildly. There were many instances where the whole process was just controlled by the Left," Panja said.

Panja, who was recently removed from all posts in the Trinamul Congress for his "anti-party activities", insisted that he continued to be the party chairman as he had not yet received any letter from the party stating otherwise. He added that his primary function now was to bring a semblance of "democracy" within the party.

Panja has been critical of Mamata's leadership ever since she decided to break away from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and join hands with the Congress(I). "She has all along been most whimsical and autocratic. We all followed only because the party was new. She would change election manifestos, pick and choose candidates at random, even at the expense of sitting MLAs and tested leaders. The last straw was her secret alignment with the Congress(I), which till the other day she called the 'B team of the CPI(M)'," Panja said.

Insisting that the Trinamul Congress had not left the NDA officially, Panja made no bones about his wish to become a Minister again. "Which individual in this world does not want to be a Minister, unless he or she is a sage?" he asked. About his rejoining the Ministry, he said it was up to the Prime Minister. When reminded that Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had labelled the Trinamul Congress the "C team of CPI(M)", he said that it was "just an election speech, not an official one".

He said that he had no wish to break away from the Trinamul Congress and form a new party, but wanted to change the party from within. "I could leave the Congress, but there is no question of my leaving the Trinamul Congress as I gave birth to it. It was here in this house, 250, Chittaranjan Avenue, on January 1, 1998, that the party was born," Panja said.

On May 23, at a meeting in Sealdah, Panja declared that he proposed to form a parallel executive committee of the party. "The leaders who have been supporting me throughout have been in touch with me and I have circulated a proposal with six agendas to all the district leaders. I want to involve workers from the grassroots level in the party functioning," Panja told Frontline.

Blaming Mamata for the Trinamul Congress' humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections, Panja said: "People in Bengal want someone who will go along with Bengali sentiments and aspirations - that is, good behaviour. Throughout her speeches she never used her intellect." He said that the people found out that sh sh she was not fit to govern the State. "Earlier 70 per cent of the industrialists were behind us, but then Mamata said in a statement that six industrialists (she refused to name them) were sucking the State dry. As a result all of them backed out," Panja said.

Panja claimed that if Mamata had not left the NDA, there was an 80 per cent chance that the Trinamul Congress would have come to power. "But she can never hold power. Her whole story has been that of resignations - right from Rajiv Gandhi's time down to Narasimha Rao's government and then twice in Atal Behari Vajpayee's Ministry," he said.

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