BENGAL POLITICS: Congress takes off gloves – Alliance doesn’t mean we have to fold up for its sake, says Pranab – now start below the belt ?!!

BENGAL POLITICS: Congress takes off gloves – Alliance doesn’t mean we have to fold up for its sake, says Pranab – now start below the belt ?!!

Pranab Mukherjee at the Congress’s campaign opener in Sealdah. (Photo by Pradip Sanyal) - Telegraph Editors chose only this embarassing photo ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

Calcutta, May 11: Pranab Mukherjee today hit out at Mamata Banerjee without naming her for trying to marginalise the Congress in Bengal.

Launching the party’s campaign for the Calcutta civic polls today, Mukherjee defended his party’s position during the seat-sharing talks with the Trinamul Congress and put it in a larger political context.

Citing the Congress’s alliance with the NCP in Maharashtra, the DMK in Tamil Nadu and Lalu Prasad in Bihar, he said: “This doesn’t mean we’ll have to fold up our party in these states. Political parties form alliances to expand themselves. If somebody thinks that to form an alliance means to fold up a party, I don’t agree.”

Mukherjee, the Bengal Congress president, said the party had asked for a “minimum number” of seats for the city civic polls, but had been rebuffed by ally Trinamul.

Mukherjee’s speech in the Congress’s inaugural campaign rally belied suggestions that the party would be defensive about the collapse of the alliance with Trinamul. Instead, he set the tone for what cou- ld be an aggressive Congress campaign on what he sees as Trinamul’s bullying tactics.

Just as Mukherjee did not name Mamata today, the Trinamul leader had earlier held him responsible for the break-up of the alliance without using his name. She had last week instructed Trinamul workers to go full blast against Bengal Congress leaders, dubbing them CPM agents.

Mamata has made no sec- ret of her annoyance with Mukherjee on several issues involving central as well as state politics. She had stayed away from the Lok Sabha with her party MPs when Mukherjee replied to the debate on the finance bill.

She had been upset over Mukherjee’s refusal to withdraw the service tax on railway freight. She had expected that he would prevail upon his Bengal colleagues to accept her terms, but instead he instructed them to put up candidates for 88 seats in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

In his hour-long speech, Mukherjee dwelt at length on the Congress’s need for an alliance for the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. “We had accepted 14 seats out of 42 and she (Mamata) took the remaining,” Mukherjee said. “What was the result? Her seats went up from one to 19. This means that the people voted for the alliance and not for an individual party.”

He added: “Does it mean one has to fold up the party for the sake of change? Ours is a 125-year-old party, which has faced many odds. So if one disrespects the party because there has been no alliance, I have nothing to say.”

Earlier in the day, Mukherjee had addressed a meeting of party workers in North 24-Parganas’ Panihati.

Supporters scuffled with each other to get near the dais where Mukherjee was seated with state party working president Pradip Bhattacharya.

At that meeting, Mukherjee said it was “irrational” to equate the municipal polls with the Lok Sabha polls to reach a seat-share understanding.

“No parallel can be drawn between the Lok Sabha polls and the municipal polls. The civic polls are fought on local issues and political issues do not play a major role,” he said.

Mamata had insisted on 115 of the 141 seats in Calcutta citing her party’s parliamentary poll performance.

Mukherjee told a news conference at Panihati the collapse of the alliance was “unfortunate”. “We had tried for an alliance but it did not happen. What can be done?”

Mamata will get a chance to respond to Mukherjee’s charges when she opens her campaign in the city tomorrow.

CPM cries alliance to split rival votes – finally ‘most desperate’ to leave behind Darjeeling problem in rival lap, Bengal’s deep-seated chauvinism ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

Calcutta, May 11: The Trinamul Congress and the Congress may be blaming each other for their break-up, but the CPM’s civic poll campaign will harp on an unofficial Opposition alliance before the polls and possible patch-up later.

Insiders see in this a bid to unite the ranks and prevent Trinamul from harvesting all anti-Left votes. They said that had the party expressed happiness at the split, it could polarise anti-Left votes towards Trinamul. Mamata Banerjee wants all anti-Left votes in her kitty and that is why she has gone back to calling the Congress the “CPM’s B-team”, they added.

At the CPM state committee’s pre-poll stock-taking today, Bengal CPM secretary Biman Bose cautioned supporters against any euphoria over the rift in the Opposition.

Participants said he stressed “the ongoing process of ground-level patch-up between Trinamul and the Congress” and the likelihood of the UPA partners coming together to form municipal boards.

“Who said the Opposition is divided?” veteran leader Benoy Konar said after the meeting. “We have reports that they have either joined hands on the ground or are moving towards that goal in many districts. We have asked our workers to plunge into the campaign considering that the Opposition will be united.”

The CPM is worried about the ground it lost in the Lok Sabha polls, to the tune of 7 per cent votes. Since Trinamul had bagged most of it by eating into the CPM’s base among the poor and Muslims, Bose spoke of a campaign to expose Trinamul’s “crocodile tears” for the underprivileged while gunning for the Congress-led Centre’s “pro-rich policies”. He accused both parties of using money power to try and defeat the Left.

In its efforts to divide Opposition votes, the CPM has also decided to target the BJP and its alleged informal tie-up with the Congress-Trinamul alliance. But Bose knows a split in Opposition votes will not help it much unless the party is able to recover some of its lost ground. “The situation has improved for us since the Lok Sabha polls. But we have to get more support from the people,” Konar said.

Konar refused to divulge the party’s assessment on retaining the 53 boards it runs among the 81 going to the polls. “We don’t know what people have in their mind,” he said.

At today’s meeting, the party’s Calcutta leaders admitted “a tough fight despite the good work done” by the front-run city civic body, but leaders from Burdwan, Bankura, Hoogly and West Midnapore expressed confidence in retaining most of the boards.

Bose reminded them about their claims before last year’s Lok Sabha polls and suggested that their confidence could be misplaced. “We have to accept that many poor and middle-class people have deserted us and we have to go door-to-door and meet them to keep tabs on the ground reality instead of making self-deluding claims,” participants quoted Bose as saying.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee attended the first half of the meeting but remained silent.

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