March 14, 2009

Congress surrenders to Mamata on seat deal

KOLKATA: IT HAS happened the way it was scripted to happen. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee succeeded in arm twisting the Congress on seat sharing to seal the electoral deal at the level of the Congress High Command with the party’s high priestess Sonia Gandhi presiding over matters and conceding to the Bengal firebrand’s demand.

The seat sharing deal had to do with the Congress accepting 14 Lok Sabha seats and getting cut out of South Bengal a Trinamool base and Mamata’s party fighting in the lion’s share of seats at 27. One seat has gone to left ally SUCI.

It was obvious from the very beginning when the two parties were sparring over an electoral deal to stop division of anti-Left votes that the Congress would have to play second fiddle to the Trinamool Congress in West Bengal and would have to accept the role of a junior ally. The fact remains that ever since Mamata left the Congress in 1997 and formed her own party, the Trinamool Congress has gone from strength to strength vis a vis the Congress and reduced the latter to sign board. It is only in recent years that the Congress has seen some revival in North Bengal districts. By accepting that the Congress will fight in 14 seats as against the Triamool’s 27, Sonia and the high command has tacitly admitted that the Left in Bengal can be taken on only with Mamata spearheading the fight.

The seat sharing arrangement was formally announced by Congress Working Committee member in-charge of West Bengal, K Keshav Rao.

That the seat sharing arrangement has not gone down well with a large section of the Congress was apparent. But no leader in Bengal has dared to voice dissent so far. The Congress had wanted a few seats in South Bengal which they did not get apart from the lower number of seats they are being allowed to contest. At one stage it asked for one seat in South Bengal but was denied it by Mamata. Besides the six seats that the Congress holds it will contest from Arambag, Jhargram, Bankura, Purulia, Burdwan-Durgapur, Bolpur and Jalpaiguri.

A section of Congress leaders were of the opinion that the party high command had been taken for a ride by Mamata when she was not in a position to do so. The Congress they felt was in a much better position in striking a better deal in terms of seats simply because Mamata cannot go back to the NDA fold for fear of losing minority votes which she cashed in on during the Panchayat polls. She had the choice of tying up with the Congress or going it alone. This is where the Congress should have pressed home its advantage. Instead it was Mamata being the only MP from Bengal from her party, who managed to turn the tables on Sonia. The leaders did admit that the slow pace of political equations working out in the rest of the country may have prompted Sonia to seal the deal with Mamata despite the advantages the Trinamool chief managed to reap. Some, state Congress leaders, among them Deepa Dasmunhsi wife of Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi felt that the Congress had surrendered to Mamata.
An elated Mamata addressing a press conference went on record stating that the seat-sharing arrangement was a fulfillment of the people’s aspirations. People, she is convinced, wanted the alliance where a united opposition could take on the CPI(M) led Left and oust it from Bengal.

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