WB polls: Cong looking for middle ground with Mamata

Cong is realising that it may not have its way in negotiations with Mamata as it did with DMK.

Updated: Mar 11, 2011, 18:49 PM IST

New Delhi: With the ticklish issue of
seat-sharing in West Bengal still undecided, Congress is
increasingly realising that it may not have its way in
negotiations with Mamata Banerjee as it did with DMK in Tamil
Nadu and is looking for a middle ground.

The Congress is hoping to get at the most 70 seats as
against 98 sought by the state unit and 58 offered by Mamata`s
Trinamool Congress out of the 294.

Congress leaders admit that the situation in West
Bengal is far different from that in Tamil Nadu, where it
could push its ally into some sort of submission.

Party leaders say the the seat-sharing between
Congress and Trinamool Congress is likely to conclude in a
couple of days.

West Bengal PCC chief Manas Bhunia has already held
preliminary talks with senior Trinamool Congress leaders Mukul
Roy and Sudip Bandopadhyay, who were authorised by Mamata
to talk to state Congress leaders on behalf of the party.

Bandopadhyay has, however, been replaced by Trinamool
MP Gobinda Chandra Naskar.

Sources said the Congress, which was initially
inclined to seek 98 seats, is now agreeable to around 75 seats
while Mamata`s party appears to be in mood to give "not more
than 65 seats", an improvement over its earlier offer of 45
seats which was later raised to 58.

"The formula for final talks is being worked out
between senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee and Trinamool
Congress chief Mamata Banerjee. Mukherjee and CWC in-charge
for the state Shakeel Ahmed could be visiting West Bengal to
seal the deal anytime now," Congress sources said.

Though five of the six Congress MPs from the state
excluding Mukherjee have said that the party should go it
alone in the elections, Congress President Sonia Gandhi
favoured the continuance of alliance, sources said.

The five MPs had a one-on-one meeting with Gandhi in
the last three days during which they are learnt to have urged
Gandhi not to give seats to Trinamool Congress in their
Parliamentary seats.

The MPs also had a meeting with Mukherjee here in
which Deepa Dasmunshi and AH Khan Chaudhoury, in particular,
expressed reservations against having Trinamool candidates
from constituencies in their seats.

A number of district presidents of the party had also
earlier told the central leadership that Congress should
contest on its own if it fails to get one-third of the total
seats. They said the party should not succumb to pressure from
Trinamool.

However, the senior leadership of the party is of the
view that the alliance with Trinamool Congress should not be
rocked, as the party is not that strong in West Bengal as in
in Tamil Nadu.

It also views that any unsavoury bargaining with
Trinamool Congress more so after the recent stormy seat
sharing negotiations with DMK will give an impression that the
party does not care for its allies.

PTI