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Subrata dons secular robe for front

Calcutta, April 25: Mayor Subrata Mukherjee today said he would formally float a 'mahajot' sans the BJP tomorrow.

A split in Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress became inevitable after the mayor's differences with Mamata became public and leaders from both sides began gunning for each other openly.

Trinamul is likely to initiate disciplinary action against the mayor and his aides once a formal announcement on the proposed grand alliance is made.

Subrata Mukherjee's secular brigade will comprise the Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Party for Democratic Socialism (PDS) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), among others.

Trinamul's bitter bickering surfaced in the Assembly lobby today. Ashoke Deb, the pro-mayor MLA from Budge Budge, had a heated exchange with Mamata loyalist Partha Chatterjee, the legislator from Behala (West).

Deb made a virulent attack on Chatterjee for foiling attempts to form an official alliance with the Congress in the run-up to the civic polls.

Budge Budge municipality, too, is going to elections next month.

The mayor said: 'Everybody should realise that a grand alliance of secular democratic forces is the need of the hour to counter the CPM. I am not hankering for the mayor's post; my sole aim is to prevent a split in anti-Left votes.'

Sources close to him said over 30 Trinamul leaders, including six MLAs, five mayor-in-council members, eight borough committee chiefs and 17 councillors, have been invited to dinner at his south Calcutta residence tomorrow.

Mukherjee said: 'The BJP has no place in our alliance as it is not a secular party. That is why, I have not approached the BJP.'

For the past four-and-a-half years, the mayor had been running Calcutta Municipal Corporation in collaboration with the BJP.

Mukherjee's statement today made it apparent that he was virtually toeing the Congress line ' an alliance with Trinamul was out of question as long as it maintained ties with the BJP.

Mamata has already discussed seat sharing for the civic polls with the BJP.

'The mayor has betrayed us,' said Mukherjee's deputy in the corporation, Meena Devi Purohit, a BJP leader. 'How can he regard our party as communal after running the civic board with our support for so many years' she asked.

Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Pankaj Banerjee felt the mayor was echoing what state Congress president Pranab Mukherjee has been saying all these days. 'It is clear that he is playing second fiddle to the Congress and the CPM and is out to break our party,' he said.

Yesterday, Mamata called the mayor 'a cook trying to poison' her broth. Mukherjee today said: 'She is committing harakiri. She had earlier made several unsuccessful attempts to end her life.'

He has, however, cancelled his proposed visit to Delhi to call on Congress president Sonia Gandhi. 'I will have to arrange a meeting with leaders of the smaller secular parties in a day or two,' Mukherjee said, intent on consolidating his new front.

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