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Mamata dangles leader lolly before Cong

Calcutta, Jan. 4: Betraying traces of desperation, Mamata Banerjee today offered the Congress the leadership of the anti-Left alliance she has in mind.

'I have no problem if a senior leader from the Congress is asked to head that alliance,' the Trinamul Congress leader told The Telegraph today.

'If leaders like Barkatda (A.B.A Ghani Khan Chowdhury) or Pranabda (defence minister Pranab Mukherjee) can take us to victory in the coming Assembly elections, I would not mind (being in the background). The only thing that matters to me is ousting the CPM from office,' Mamata said before leaving for north Bengal.

'I must call on Barkatda who first floated the idea of stitching together all anti-CPM forces during the last municipality elections. The concept is still valid.'

The Trinamul leader said she would also call on Mukherjee when he arrives to attend the Congress executive committee meeting on Saturday. 'Last week's discussion with Pranabda on the proposed alliance was quite encouraging. I am confident that the matter will be sorted out if we further deliberate on it.'

Today's Mamata sounded distinctly dissonant from the firebrand leader she is known to be. During the 2001 elections, she had snapped ties with the Congress after acting pricey and demanding a lion's share of the seats.

Five years later, Mamata is going out of her way to forge an alliance with the party.

However, the Congress is not making much noise on the alliance, with Mamata unwilling to part ways with the BJP, its main rival at the Centre.

Chowdhury, though, had said in Malda yesterday that the Congress should find a way to join hands with the Trinamul despite its links with the BJP.

AICC sources in Delhi said Mukherjee would brief Congress president Sonia Gandhi in a day or two about his discussion with Mamata on the proposed alliance.

'We are hopeful that Mamata will sever ties with the BJP in the changed scenario, with Rajnath Singh taking over as BJP president replacing L.K. Advani,' said Shankar Singh, a pro-alliance Congress MLA.

Trinamul sources said Mamata is in two minds about carrying on in the National Democratic Alliance, which the BJP leads.

The sources said the Trinamul leader is under pressure from close associates to distance herself from the BJP. 'That is why we have not initiated any discussion so far on sharing of seats with the BJP's Bengal unit,' a source said.

As Mamata grapples with the dilemma, a summons has been issued asking her to appear in a Barasat court three days later in connection with a demonstration on February 22, 1994, when she was the Youth Congress president.

The Trinamul leader today stuck to her stand that she would not surrender.

Public prosecutor P. Chatterjee said if she skips the hearing, 'an arrest warrant may be issued'.

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