Pranab Mukherjee with Mamata Banerjee at the guesthouse in Calcutta on Sunday. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta
Calcutta, March 1: Bypoll for lunch, the big one for dinner.
Mamata Banerjee and the Congress tonight formally declared they would join forces to contest the Lok Sabha polls, the breakthrough announcement capping a dramatic day that saw the Trinamul Congress handing the CPM a crushing defeat in the Bishnupur West Assembly byelection.
Trinamuls Madan Mitra snatched the seat from the CPM by a margin of over 30,000 votes, not only exposing the Lefts inability to stem its slide since the panchayat elections but also adding momentum to the alliance effort with the Congress.
Late tonight, after a round of talks with Mamata at a guesthouse on Lake Road, Congress leader Pranab Mukherjee said: We have formally decided to contest together in all 42 seats in Bengal in the coming Lok Sabha polls. Our discussion with Mamata Banerjee was fruitful. We will very shortly announce the details of the seat sharing arrangement.
The discussion was very cordial and productive. We have decided to forge an electoral alliance with the Congress to put an end to CPM misrule in Bengal. If we fight together, the CPM will certainly be driven out of Bengal, Mamata said.
Mukherjee patted Mamata on the shoulder and said: An alliance is necessary to make sure that the anti-Left vote division is stopped.
Asked about details of seat-sharing, Mukherjee said: We have certain compulsions so we cannot discuss that here. The matter will be finalised in full detail by the AICC in Delhi.
Sources said Mamata was expected to meet Sonia Gandhi in Delhi to sort out the modalities of the alliance.
The Bishnupur result in itself was on expected lines after the Congress withdrew its candidate ó the combined Opposition had polled more votes in the seat in 2006, too, but lost the election because of disunity ó but the big margin of Mitras victory today underscored two factors.
First, it confirmed the decline of the CPM and the rise of Trinamul, not only extending the trend set by last Mays panchayat elections and Decembers Nandigram Assembly bypoll but also deepening the erosion of CPM votes. The vote share of the CPM has come down by as much as 7 per cent compared with the performance in 2006.
Second, the CPM has been unable to win back voters from the minority community and weaker sections despite administrative and political efforts. The party had fielded a candidate from the minority community, which accounts for around 22 per cent of the voters in the seat, but still lost. The seat also has a considerable number of Scheduled Caste voters.
Trinamuls Mitra, despite being an outsider, defeated his closest rival, Iskandar Hossain of the CPM, by bagging 85,340 of the total 146,935 votes polled.
In 2006, Mitra had lost to CPM candidate Rathin Sarkar by 4,260 votes. This time his margin has gone up by more than seven times.
At 58 per cent, Mitra polled 6 per cent more votes this time than what the Congress and Trinamul had polled together in 2006.
The sweep is being seen more as a Trinamul achievement, rather than the result of the understanding with the Congress, because South 24-Parganas, in which Bishnupur (West) falls, is Mamatas strongest turf in the whole of Bengal.
We are grateful to the Congress for its withdrawal of candidate. But dont belittle our achievement. The huge margin cant be explained in terms of transfer of votes from another party to our kitty, Mamata said.
But the victory boosted the morale of those working for the electoral adjustment between Mamata and the Congress for the Lok Sabha polls, just as the defeat sent a wave of despair among the Left.
The late-night announcement of the Lok Sabha deal is expected to add to the CPMs agony, with Jyoti Basu conceding on Friday that the number of Left Front seats would come down in the event of an Opposition pact.