TMC's Rajib Banerjee resigns as MLA; speculation rife he may cross over to BJP

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(Eds: changing a word in para 9) Kolkata, Jan 29 (PTI) Days after quitting the Mamata Banerjee cabinet, TMC leader Rajib Banerjee on Friday resigned as the MLA of the West Bengal Assembly, as speculation that he might join the saffron camp ahead of the state elections picked up steam.

The former forest minister, who represented the Domjur Assembly seat, visited the state assembly in the morning and submitted his resignation to Speaker Biman Banerjee.

'I have resigned as MLA of the state assembly. I have submitted my resignation letter to the speaker. I thank my party supremo Mamata Banerjee for providing me with an opportunity to serve the masses,' he said.

Asked if he would quit the ruling party, the disgruntled TMC leader, who had been critical of his colleagues on several occasions, said he is yet to take a call on the matter.

'I have not decided anything as yet. I will clear my stand tomorrow,' he said.

Replying to a query about chances of his switchover to the BJP, Banerjee said, 'If you want to serve the masses, you need to be associated with a political party. People always want a politician to be associated with a party. But I have not spoken with BJP leaders so far,' He, however, stressed that he will 'continue to serve the people of my constituency in the days to come'.

Incidentally, Union Home Minister Amit Shah is scheduled to address a rally in Banerjee's home district Howrah on January 31.

Extending his gratitude to the chief minister, the former minister said, 'Mamata Banerjee is like a mother figure to me. I am indebted to her for providing me with this platform... This is an emotional moment for me.' Joining the growing list of dissenters who have put the ruling camp in a tight spot ahead of the assembly elections, Banerjee last week put in his papers as the cabinet minister and said he was forced to take this decision after being publicly humiliated by a section of the party's leaders for airing his grievances over their style of functioning.

He is the third minister to quit the state cabinet in the last two months after Suvendu Adhikari, who crossed over to the BJP, and Laxmi Ratan Shukla, who expressed his desire to quit politics.

The TMC leadership, over the past one month, held several rounds of dialogue with Banerjee to address his grievances. State parliamentary affairs minister Partha Chatterjee and the party's poll strategist Prashant Kishor had met the leader and tried to pacify him.

According to TMC sources, he had been having differences over various issues with the district chairman of Howrah and state minister Arup Roy.

Banerjee, a popular mass leader in Howrah, influences eight of the 16 assembly seats in the district.

Elections to the 294-member assembly are likely to be held in April-May this year. PTI PNT RMS RMS RMS RMS