Mamata has her way; Congress blinks first on WB poll pact

TMC had earlier decided to provide not more than 64 seats to Congress but after the intervention of Sonia Gandhi, Mamata agreed to add one more seat.

Last Updated: Mar 22, 2011, 00:57 AM IST

Zeenews Bureau

New Delhi/ Kolkata: Ending weeks of suspense, the Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) sealed a seat-sharing pact on Monday for the April-May West Bengal Assembly polls.

As per the deal, in the 294-member Assembly, the Trinamool Congress and its junior partner Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) will contest on 229 seats while Congress will get hold of 65 constituencies. The Congress was initially demanding more than 90 seats but Mamata Banerjee turned out to be a tough bargainer and the Congress had no other option but to settle for a smaller share of the cake.

The deal was sealed after a day of hectic political activities and at one point Congress seemed to be ready to go alone in the crucial state Assembly elections. Congress president Sonia Gandhi, who returned from a week-long tour of Britain on Sunday, played a key role in breaking the impasse.

Trinamool had earlier decided to provide a maximum of 64 seats to Congress but after the intervention of Sonia Gandhi, Mamata agreed to add just one more seat to Congress’ kitty.

The deal was announced within hours of a meeting between Sonia Gandhi and UPA’s trouble-shooter Pranab Mukherjee and the latter`s telephonic talk with Mamata Banerjee.
The seat sharing script in West Bengal appears to have been written by Mamata, widely perceived to be the next chief minister of the state, unlike in Tamil Nadu where Sonia Gandhi had called the shots to extract a better deal from a reluctant DMK chief M Karunanidhi.

Mamata`s virtual stance of "take-it-or-leave it" forced Congress to pick up the bargain offered by her and on her own terms as she had unilaterally announced her candidates for 228 of the total 294 seats last week, taking Congress by surprise.

The Trinamool supremo had set a deadline till 16:00 hours on Monday for Congress to accept the 64 seats allotted to it or TMC would have announced candidates for all 294 seats. Congress` announcement of the seat-sharing accord came just a few minutes before the deadline ended though party leaders refused to accept that it was done under pressure.

Trinamool Congress is the second largest constituent of the Congress-led UPA at the Centre. This is perhaps for the first time in the recent years that Congress had been treated so shabbily by a powerful regional ally which wanted to dominate the entire political space in a state. Political observers said Mamata had tasted the strength of Congress in municipal elections where the party put up a poor show.

Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed, the Congress Working Committee member in-charge of West Bengal, told a press conference that the two parties will work in close co-operation in the Assembly Elections.

"There is no question of compromise or surrender. When the two parties have agreed for a negotiated settlement, all party workers and leaders should honour it," Ahmed said.
In a press conference Ahmed as also West Bengal PCC chief Manas Bhuniya sidestepped questions on whether they were happy and satisfied.

The Bengal Congress apparently supported the deal, saying they would abide by whatever decision the high command takes.

A similar statement was made by Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata. "We all want to work together to bring back democracy by ending Left Front misrule in the coming elections”, she said.

Meanwhile, state Congress leaders from North Dinajpur, Murshidabad and Nadia said they were not in favour of giving seats to Trinamool in those districts.

"We have to show respect to the feelings of Congress workers. They are not happy. We are convening a meeting of district leaders tomorrow and will take a decision after discussing with them," Congress MP from North Dinajpur district Deepa Dasmunshi said immediately after the announcement of the seat-sharing deal with Trinamool.

Voting for the 294 seats of the West Bengal Assembly is to be held in six phases from April 18 to May 10. The results will be declared on May 13.

With Agency inputs