With the Trinamool Congress all set to formally break its ties with the ruling UPA on Friday, the Congress as quid pro quo is preparing to play the role of the main opposition party in West Bengal.
The six Congress ministers in the West Bengal government - two cabinet and 4 ministers of state - are expected to put in their papers soon after the Trinamool's central ministers submit their resignation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday.
Having 42 MLAs in the 294-member state assembly (two more than the CPM’s 40), the Congress will then stake a claim to the post of the leader of the opposition. At present, the post is held by Surjya Kanta Mishra of the CPM.
As per the rule, the largest opposition party gets the post provided it has one-sixth of the total strength. However, the ruling parties in various states have granted the status to the single largest opposition party.
A central Congress leader said hectic lobbying within the state unit for the post has already begun.
Senior leaders Manas Ranjan Bhunia and Abu Hena — ministers in the Mamata Banerjee government — have emerged as the top contenders.
Asked if his party would withdraw from the state government, West Bengal Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said, “Our ministers did not attend yesterday's cabinet meeting. We will convene a meeting tomorrow to discuss the issue and later convey our feelings to the party high command.”
Though the state Congress also issued a last-minute appeal to Trinamool supremo and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to reconsider her decision, sources said party leaders from West Bengal were “happy” over the recent developments.
With the exit of the Trinamool Congress, many state Congress leaders are also eyeing berths in the central government.
Post break-up, the two parties will fight their first battle in Jangipur, where a Lok Sabha by-poll is scheduled for October 10. The Congress has fielded President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit Mukherjee on his father's seat.