January 13, 2009

Cong divided over Trinamool alliance

KOLKATA, 12th January: The Congress in West Bengal is divided over an alliance with Trinamool Congress for the coming Lok Sabha election. While a section of Congress leaders left for Delhi on Monday to advise AICC leaders to exercise caution against such an alliance, others did not go. Those who left for Delhi were led by Congress Legislature Party chief Manas Bhunia. Among the group were a few legislators, too, it was learnt from party sources. On the other, the two working presidents of the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC), Subrata Mukherjee and Pradip Bhattacharya, did not go. Bhunia had of late been critical of Congress leaders leaving the party and joining Trinamool. Accusing Trinamool of engineering defections in the Congress, he said that would not pave the way for an alliance between the two. It was believed he was leading the group, which did not want an alliance while both Mukherjee and Bhattacharya had advocated in favour of an alliance at a recent meeting with external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee. During their stay in Delhi, Bhunia and his colleagues were likely to meet Pranab and Mohsina Kidwai, AICC general secretary in charge of West Bengal, too, it was learnt. "They are not against any alliance. But they want it to be forged on honourable terms for the Congress," Bhattacharya said. Mukherjee said other PCC leaders would also give their opinions about such an alliance to the AICC, but only when asked to do so. "First, let us assess what Delhi is thinking about the alliance," he pointed out. Although Trinamool chairperson Mamata Banerjee has not commented on her plans for an alliance with Congress, she had lately been in touch with Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Pranab Mukherjee. Going by the indications, she would rather firm up the question of an alliance with the Congress high command rather than depend on state-level PCC leaders. Mamata's move on Monday of not sharing a platform with BJP leader Rahul Sinha at a public meeting at Nandaram Market was indication enough that she was serious about not having any relation with BJP, observers said. For the Congress to ally with the Trinamool, the latter must snap all ties with NDA. But state level PCC leaders wanted to ensure that Trinamool left some seats for Congress with a winning chance in south Bengal, too. They would not agree to a scheme of things under which Trinamool would have all the seats in south Bengal, leaving Congress to contest only those in North Bengal.

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