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Cong-Trinamul start seat talks in districts

Feb. 21: District-level Trinamul Congress and Congress leaders have begun preliminary discussions on seat-sharing, a day after Mamata Banerjee called upon the Congress to forge an alliance with her party.

Trinamul state president Subrata Bakshi said the party’s district unit chiefs had been asked to begin “ground-level discussions” with their Congress counterparts to “firm up the alliance”.

“Our district leaders are not sitting idle,” Bakshi said.

State Congress chief Manas Bhuniya today welcomed Mamata’s call to form the alliance. “My district presidents have begun ground-level talks with Trinamul leaders,” he said.

District Trinamul and Congress leaders said preliminary talks had begun to sort out contentious issues and facilitate smooth seat-sharing talks higher up the hierarchy.

Leaders of both the parties said grassroot-level workers were “determined” to strike an alliance. “The workers and supporters of both the parties believe that only a tie-up can ensure the CPM’s defeat in the Assembly elections,” said Tapan Dasgupta, the chief of Trinamul’s Hooghly unit.

Dasgupta said Mamata’s “clarion call” yesterday was a “green signal” to begin preliminary talks with the Congress. “I have had one round of discussions with my Congress counterpart. I will meet him again to work out the details of seat-sharing in our district,” he said. According to Dasgupta, the state leaderships of both parties will oversee such talks.

Dilip Nath, the Congress’s Hooghly unit president, said the “people want us to collaborate with Trinamul to oust the CPM”. Abdul Mannan, a two-time Congress MLA from the district, said that “after 35 years”, the Congress had the “golden opportunity to be at the helm in Bengal”.

“We must ensure that the alliance is firmed up instead of jeopardising it by insisting on contesting a certain number of seats,” Mannan said, referring to the demand by a section of state Congress leaders, including Bhuniya, that the Congress be offered a third of the 294 Assembly seats.

A district Trinamul leader said the Congress could be offered three of the 18 seats in Hooghly. He said the three could include Arambagh and Goghat, where the Left has traditionally been strong.

Mrigen Maity, the chairman of Trinamul’s West Midnapore unit, said talks with the Congress would begin “in a day or two”. In the 2006 Assembly polls, Trinamul had not won a single of the district’s 19 seats while the Congress had won Kharagpur and Sabang.

“But we improved our vote share in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. So we may not offer more than three seats to the Congress in West Midnapore this time,” Maity said.

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