New Delhi: A torn statement, a suspended MP and sustained disruptions of the House — the Opposition space in the Rajya Sabha in the first week of the monsoon session had Trinamool Congress at the forefront. The party, fresh from a massive third victory in the West Bengal assembly elections, has taken on an aggressive stance, making no bones about its national aspirations.
But within the party, all eyes are on one announcement — who will get the Rajya Sabha berth vacated by former Union minister Dinesh Trivedi, who is now with the BJP?
The seat is up for a byelection on 9 August, and party chief Mamata Banerjee is yet to announce a candidate. On Friday, in a surprise and unusual decision, the Trinamool Congress announced that Mamata Banerjee, who is not an MP, would be the chairperson of the Trinamool Congress parliamentary party.
Meanwhile, speculation is rife about the RS seat in Trinamool circles. Two names seem to have emerged as frontrunners, both with BJP antecedents. These are: Former Trinamool No. 2 Mukul Roy, who returned to the fold right after the assembly elections following a four-year stint in the BJP, and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha, a surprise entrant just before the state elections.
The choice, party leaders say, would reflect Trinamool’s national ambitions and who is seen as best suited to “strengthen” newly-appointed general secretary Abhishek Banerjee, Mamata’s nephew and a Lok Sabha MP.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is due to arrive in the capital on 26 July, and her itinerary reportedly includes not just a meeting with the prime minister, but also interactions with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejrwal, and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar. She may also announce the name of the Rajya Sabha nominee during her Delhi sojourn, say party insiders.
Former Union railways minister Dinesh Trivedi resigned from the Trinamool Congress — and his Rajya Sabha seat — on 12 February, and joined the BJP. His term was to have ended on 2 April 2026. According to rules, byelections for a vacant Rajya Sabha seat have to take place within six months of it becoming vacant. The last date for filing of nominations is 29 July.
Reached for comment, Trinamool Congress Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien said “there is still some time to go until 29 July”. “The chairperson and the party will announce (the candidate) at an appropriate time,” he added.
Mukul Roy — friend-turned-foe-turned-friend
Roy was once Mamata’s de facto deputy in the Trinamool Congress — one of its founding members who was at the helm of the party’s efforts to increase its national footprint.
He also served as the leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha and its representative in opposition negotiations before he quit in 2017, citing, among other things, his inability to deal with the rising political graph of Lok Sabha MP Abhishek Banerjee.
Abhishek Banerjee, seen as Mamata’s heir apparent, had been the target of a scathing BJP campaign on nepotism during this year’s assembly elections in the state.
“The party is rejuvenated after this victory — our third in the state — and we have now embarked on a new path with a national agenda,” said a Trinamool MP, speaking to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity.
“That is being spearheaded by Abhishek Banerjee, so anybody who is now sent to the Rajya Sabha would be there because the person is perceived to be able to strengthen his hands in this national journey.”
There is a buzz about Roy being headed for the Rajya Sabha, the MP said. However, the MP added that the decision about the nomination would be taken at the “highest levels of the party”, saying it would thus be difficult to predict anything for sure.
“Roy has been the leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha, the pivot of our national ambitions at one point of time. Also, in the state, there is a controversy about his appointment to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), so he will need to be rehabilitated,” the MP said.
The controversy surrounding Roy’s appointment as chair of the PAC, which serves as the audit watchdog of the West Bengal assembly, centres around the fact that he applied for the post as an MLA of the BJP despite having defected to the Trinamool Congress following his election.
The BJP has been protesting against his appointment by citing the anti-defection law, saying he can’t be considered a legislator of the party since he had joined the Trinamool Congress. The BJP has also pointed out that convention dictates an Opposition MLA be appointed chair of the panel.
In 2014, when the Trinamool Congress had fielded candidates from several seats outside West Bengal — including in Varanasi against Prime Minister Narendra Modi — and attempted a dalliance with activist Anna Hazare, it was Roy who had led from the front. Since Roy’s departure, Derek O’Brien has taken over the mantle, both as leader of the party in the Rajya Sabha and as the Trinamool’s emissary to other political parties.
The questions that hover over Roy’s name centre on his working equation with Abhishek Banerjee, the man who has emerged as the clear number two in the party after his appointment as general secretary in June — a post Roy once held.
Yashwant Sinha — emerging as a national face of Trinamool
Yashwant Sinha’s entry into the party in March was a surprise. However, since then, he has been meeting leaders of various Opposition parties on behalf of the Trinamool Congress amid talks about a united opposition front against the BJP ahead of 2024. Sinha and Pawar met leaders of other Opposition parties last month.
A former Union finance minister in the Cabinet of the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Sinha made headlines immediately after his entry into the Trinamool Congress, when he claimed Mamata Banerjee had offered herself as a negotiator during the 1999 hijacking involving a passenger plane of the erstwhile Indian Airlines to Kandahar.
“He has stature, undoubtedly, and that is important when you are dealing with leaders like Pawar and Sonia Gandhi. But it is also a fact that he has just entered the party, and a decision to get him to Rajya Sabha may be demotivating for others,” a Trinamool leader said.
The leader added that the party had just fought the assembly election on the “insider-vs-outsider” issue, pitching the BJP as a party of outsiders. “To then appoint Yashwant Sinha (whose roots are in Bihar, and who represented Hazaribagh, Jharkhand, in Parliament) to the Rajya Sabha may seem counterintuitive.”
Sinha’s candidature for the Upper House, insiders say, has the backing of election strategist Prashant Kishor, who played an important role in the Trinamool Congress victory. However, sources close to Sinha told ThePrint that he had not been approached by the party with respect to the Rajya Sabha byelection.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)