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Why Cong isn't afraid of Mamata's tantrums in WB

Last updated on: March 11, 2011 08:40 IST

Why Cong isn't afraid of Mamata's tantrums in WB

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A Correspondent in New Delhi

Triumphant over the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in making it swallow threat to quit the United Progressive Alliance government, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has asked the party managers to strike a similar hard bargain with Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress for alliance in the upcoming West Bengal assembly elections.

A clear line was drawn by her in a strategic meeting in New Delhi on Wednesday night with her political secretary Ahmed Patel, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and state incharge Shakeel Ahmed that the Congress should stick to the state leaders' aspiration to contest on one-third of the seats and not surrender meekly to Mamata's tantrums.

Congress will give the first shock to Mamata on Friday when nobody from Delhi will rush to Kolkata as desired by her to finalise the seat-sharing, to let her become first in declaring the Trinamool candidates ahead of the Left Front's plans to be out with the first list on Sunday.

Also Read: Mamata vs Cong: Who will blink first?
Cong's Bengal mantra: 'Honourable' tie-up with Trinamool

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Image: Congress chief Sonia Gandhi with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee at a poll rally in West Bengal
Photographs: Reuters
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Congress won't stand humiliation of settling with Trinamool crumbs

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Sonia told the party strategists not to show any haste, nor to suppress the legitimate aspirations under 'unreasonable' pressure from the Trinamool  Congress.

After reviewing the preliminary negotiations held so far with Mamata,  Sonia Gandhi agreed to the West Bengal Congress leaders' demand that the party should insist on 98 seats -- one-third of the total 294 seats.This arrangement will force the Trinamool to have a coalition government with the Congress if their group wins the polls, instead of dumping the Congress after the polls, the leaders believed.

Mamata has, however, made the final offer of just 58 seats that is not  acceptable to Sonia, who asked Pranab Mukherjee to convey back that the  alliance has to be with 'dignity' and not by 'humiliating' the Congress by  offering just a few crumbs.



Image: Congress wants a 'dignified' alliance with the Trinamool for WB assembly elections
Photographs: Reuters
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Two allies contesting separately would only help Left Front

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The Congress has smelt a definite victory by contesting the elections in alliance with the Trinamool to bring to an end the never-ending Left Front rule in the state, but it knows that the two allies contesting separately may only help the ruling Left Front, the party sources said.

They pointed out that Mukherjee warned Sonia that some of the state satraps are already contemplating to field proxy candidates as independents if the Congress leadership yields seats in their turf to the Trinamool.

They are already angry over Mamata refusing to allot to Congress even those seats that were won by its candidates in the last assembly elections.


Image: West Bengal CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee addresses a poll rally
Photographs: Reuters
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Cong may settle at 70-75 seats, but not Mamata's 58

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That was also the impression of Shakeel Ahmed, who got charge of West Bengal in the All India Congress Committee only last Friday in the organisational reshuffle and invited the party's district presidents to the AICC headquarters in New Delhi two days ago to get a hang of their wishes.

He later briefed Sonia Gandhi on the expectation of the state party leaders and got the instructions to protect the party's interests fully in the negotiations.

Instead of accepting blindly the demand of Mamata to hurry with the alliance and take whatever seats she wants to give to the Congress, Shakeel Ahmed said there will be a constituency-wise discussion and the seats share will be decided on the strength of the 'winnability.'

Conceding that the party may not be in a position to show the winning  possibilities on all 98 seats it is demanding, the party sources indicated that the Congress may, therefore, ultimately settle at 70 to 75 seats, but not 58 or 60 as Mamata wants to give.


Image: Mamata may not give in to the demands of Congress
Photographs: Reuters
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Cong's DMK 'triumph' makes it less vulnerable

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The Congress will press for the seats that it can win instead of trying its luck on the Trinamool's leftovers, the sources said.

They also pointed out that West Bengal is a different ball game unlike Tamil Nadu, where prospects of victory are dim with or without alliance with the DMK. In West Bengal, the Left Front cannot be underestimated and hence Mamata is trying to push her terms on the Congress.

The Congress leadership is, however, prepared for Mamata choosing to announce unilaterally the seats the Trinamool will contest.

Sources pointed out that had DMK carried out the threat of pullout from the UPA government, the Congress would have been far more vulnerable to accept Mamata's diktat.

But it is not so and hence the leadership's resolve to have a hard bargain with her, short of taking alliance to the brink.


Image: DMK supemo M Karunanidhi
Photographs: Reuters
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