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Pranab turns Left's saviour in Bengal
D K Singh in New Delhi | March 23, 2006 12:05 IST
Although the Congress is burning the midnight oil to select candidates for West Bengal elections, it is likely to be a cakewalk for the ruling Left Front, thanks to Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee.
The state PCC chief is said to be in favour of a 'soft' approach towards the Left in West Bengal to avoid any adverse fallout at the Centre.
'You want the government to fall in June?' he is learnt to have told party colleagues who advocated 'formal or informal' arrangements with the Trinamul Congress for a serious bid to topple the Left government.
The meeting was held on Monday and Tuesday at Mukherjee's residence.
"He does not want the Congress to be seen as even trying to dislodge the Left Front," said a senior party leader.
At the Screening Committee meeting on Monday night, Mukherjee reportedly lost his cool when some party leaders questioned his decision to set aside some seats, where the party had a strong chance of winning, for smaller allies, said party sources.
'You know more about Bengal? Then you run the party,' Mukherjee is learnt to have shot back. He is 'bitterly opposed' to any truck with Mamta Banerjee even as the party officially maintains that the two can have a tie up if the Trinamul leaves the National Democratic Alliance.
Several delegations of state Congress leaders have been approaching the party leadership at the Centre pleading that the party must have some electoral understanding with Banerjee to maintain its credibility as an Opposition party.
Mukherjee, however, maintains that even if Banerjee severs her ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party in West Bengal, the Congress will not accept her unless she quits the NDA at the Centre.
"It's a suicidal approach. Let's accept it. We cannot topple the Left without her," said a party leader.
Sources said even if there was no formal arrangement, the two parties could have a tacit understanding on a seat-to-seat basis.
With the Congress playing hardball, Banerjee, who has left 93 seats for the BJP and the Congress, may not be left with much choice.
In this election, a tie-up with the Congress, which commands around 20 per cent votes as against the BJP's three per cent, suits her, said sources."But if you spurn her overtures this time, she fancies a better chance with the BJP in the long term. Muslims constitute about 28 per cent of the electorate in West Bengal. She is not averse to consolidating her hold on the non-Muslim population with help from the BJP. We are the only losers in this game," a senior AICC office-bearer told Business Standard.