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Mamata blow to Cong offer

Calcutta, Feb. 3: Mamata Banerjee today ruled out supporting Independents in the rural polls due in May, dealing a blow to grassroots-level deals with the Congress.

“Many from the Congress had been approaching our leaders in the districts to help them sail through the polls as Independents. That will not happen. We’ll not back any Independent candidate,” Mamata said.

The Trinamul Congress chief had on Wednesday said her party would fight the polls under the banner of the fledgling Secular Progressive Democratic Front of 17 small parties. Today, she told a rally at Esplanade that everyone in her fold would contest with the Trinamul twin-flowers symbol.

The Congress had snubbed Mamata because of her ties with the BJP-led NDA when she called for a formal anti-CPM alliance.

Trinamul MLA Partha Chatterjee said: “Today’s announcement was to send a message to our leaders across Bengal: refrain from supporting Congress workers.”

State Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya, however, said Mamata would not be able to prevent her grassroots leaders from forging for poll pacts with their Congress counterparts.

“We are opposed to any truck with Mamata unless she leaves the NDA. But we have no control on grassroots workers. Even today, some of them from Sandeshkhali in North 24-Parganas told me they had spoken to local Trinamul leaders for support,” Bhattacharya said.

The Trinamul chief dismissed the perception that anti-CPM votes would split if her party and the Congress fought each other. “Who told you that the Congress is anti-CPM?”

During her hour-long speech, more scorn was heaped on the Congress than the CPM. She regretted her decision to tie up with the party during the 2001 Assembly elections. “I committed a blunder by aligning with the Congress. I didn’t realise that its leaders had struck a deal with the CPM.”

In the Balagarh Assembly bypoll in December, Trinamul had bagged 40 per cent votes. “We have emerged as a potential alternative to the ruling Left Front. The Congress was nowhere,” Mamata said.

The Congress had finished fourth, after the BJP.

Mamata, however, made it clear that the secular stamp on her new front was to keep the BJP away. “Only those who are secular are welcome.”

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