Congress hopeful of 'middle path' even as Mamata strikes defiant note

Mamata Banerjee said that TMC won't ally with the Congress for Lok Sabha polls

rahul-gandhi-mamata (File) Rahul Gandhi; Mamata Banerjee

In her most strident remarks on the possibility of an alliance in West Bengal to contest the coming Lok Sabha elections, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today said her party, the Trinamool Congress, will go it alone. However, the Congress insists the last word has not yet been spoken on the question of the two parties coming together for the general elections and a middle path could still be found.

Banerjee's remarks to the effect that there will be no alliance with the Congress, and that her party will contest all 42 seats in the state, are viewed as a huge setback to the efforts of the INDIA bloc to mount a joint fight against the BJP. It also comes across as a major stumbling block for the Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, which enters West Bengal tomorrow.

Banerjee's comments cap days of bitter exchanges between the two parties, especially Congress's leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and Trinamool leaders amid the TMC's public offer to the Congress of two seats in the state which it already holds. Also, formal discussions between the two parties with regard to seat sharing have so far failed to take off, with the TMC refusing to name representatives who will take part in discussions with the panel set up by Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge to discuss state-level alliances.

According to sources, the TMC leadership is upset with Chowdhury's statements on the law-and-order situation in the state and his direct attacks on Banerjee even as the two parties were attempting to stitch an alliance for the Lok Sabha polls.

TMC sources said the party has spoken about leaving two seats for the Congress, but the latter has not conveyed any number to it so far, while making it clear that two seats are too meagre and cannot be accepted. According to Congress sources, this is a pressure tactic to ensure that the party reduces the number of seats that it would demand in the state. It is learnt that the Congress would want to contest around 10 seats at least in the state as a respectable figure as part of an alliance. The TMC's counter is that the Congress had failed to win more than five per cent votes in 39 seats and it should not make unrealistic demands. Also, the TMC is said to be keen on contesting a seat in Meghalaya and at least two seats in Assam as part of the alliance.

It is learnt that the seat sharing talks can be salvaged only through a dialogue at the highest levels of the two parties.

At a press conference held in Assam yesterday as part of the Nyay Yatra, Rahul Gandhi, responding to a question on whether an alliance can be worked out between the Congress and the TMC, had said: “Mamata Banerjee is very close to me. Sometimes our leaders say something. Such comments won't matter.”

Jairam Ramesh, AICC general secretary in charge of communications, too, refused to read too much into her remarks. “You need to see the whole statement. She has said defeating the BJP is our priority. We are entering West Bengal with that sentiment. It is our sincere hope that a middle path will be found in the talks and INDIA will fight as an alliance in West Bengal and all the parties will be a part of it,” he said at a press conference in Bongaigaon, Assam.

“It is a long journey. There will be speed breakers and red lights. But we will not step back. We will cross the speed breakers and the red light will turn green. Rahul Gandhi has said clearly that Mamata ji and the TMC are very important pillars of INDIA and we cannot visualise INDIA without Mamata ji,” Ramesh said.

The yatra will enter West Bengal through Cooch Behar after finishing the Assam leg of the journey. There will be a two-day break, so, for all practical purposes, the yatra will begin in West Bengal on January 28. The Congress is hoping that the TMC will come around by then and will participate in the yatra. Congress leaders insist that both Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge and Rahul Gandhi have personally reached out to Banerjee and invited her to take part in the yatra.

Join our WhatsApp Channel to get the latest news, exclusives and videos on WhatsApp