TMC slams Pranab, says he is trying to divide party

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Kolkata, Jun 21: The Congress-Trinamool (TMC) face-off issue again came to the forefront after TMC MP Kabir Suman allegedly spoke to UPA's presidential candidate, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee over the telephone on Wednesday. Suman claimed that Mukherjee had called him up to inquire about the former's health and he told Mukherjee that he would support him in the upcoming presidential election. This has, understandably, left the TMCX leadership aghast. The MP had also announced on a private TV channel on Monday about his intention to support Mukherjee as the country's next president.

"I will always vote in favour of an adept politician and Mukherjee is one such candidate. I learned about the voting procedure from him. He said I could vote here from Kolkata also. I will definitely meet him if I go to Delhi," Suman said. He added that no whip could be imposed in case of presidential poll and said he would have backed Mukherjee even if party's favourite APJ Abdul Kalam was in the fray. The MP, who was once a big supporter of party supremo Mamata Banerjee, saw a steep decline in his relation with her soon after the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

Suman said Mukherjee did not raise the presidential poll issue. "He just said it would be nice if you come to Delhi to cast your vote. You can vote for anyone," Suman said. Sources at the Finance Minister's office, however, said it was Suman who had called up to speak with Mukherjee.

Meanwhile, the TMC leadership slammed Mukherjee, saying he was trying to create a division in the party. TMC minister Subrata Mukherjee hit out at the Finance Minister to which the state Congress leadership retaliated. It is learnt that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee spoke to the Congress High Command on the issue. Mukherjee's sources later clarified that it was the MP who had called him up. Congress sources said it had no plan to split the TMC, one of its allies at the Centre, for political gains.

According to the TMC leadership, Suman was trying to break free from the party by fuelling his conflict with Banerjee so that the latter expels him and he continue as a partyless MP. "Why doesn't he leave the party?" it asked.

One reason for Banerjee's worry is that quite a few of her legislators, who had come from the Congress, still enjoyed rapport with Mukherjee. She fears that they could vote for him in the secret ballot. "Though the leadership has not yet decided its future action, but the way things are moving it could well abstain from voting," a senior party leader said.

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