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Tie-up? Rahul points to mom

- No assurance on Bengal unit’s plea to steer clear of TMC deal
Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi, Jan. 18: Congress leaders from Bengal today forcefully entreated with Rahul Gandhi not to even think of entering into an alliance with the Trinamul Congress but failed to extract any commitment from him.

Rahul said he would convey the sentiment to Sonia Gandhi as he was not the final authority on the question of alliances. Rahul has strong views on alliances but the rest of the leadership, including Sonia, has not been in tune with him on the issue.

Senior leaders tend to adopt a more pragmatic approach towards alliances while Rahul has taken an idealistic view and laid stress on the need for strengthening the Congress by fighting elections alone.

The worst dilemma that the party is facing on pre-poll alliance is in Bihar where many leaders favour an understanding with Lalu Prasad’s Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) but ordinary workers are stridently opposed to the idea. Sonia and Rahul had met Lalu Prasad after he came out of jail, prompting senior leaders to believe that the negotiations for coalition were on track.

At today’s interactions with the AICC members of Bihar and Bengal, Rahul took varying positions on the question of alliance, although he is said to be personally opposed to tie-ups with both Trinamul and the RJD.

While Rahul told the Bengal leaders that he would convey their feelings to Sonia, he was more forthcoming with their Bihar counterparts, asserting that he would not allow party’s interests to be compromised in the state. He was responding to the pleas of two Bihar district presidents who strongly contended that the seat-adjustment, if any, should be honourable.

On Bengal, there was unanimity among leaders who submitted a memorandum to Rahul, saying: “We have examined every aspect of the current political situation and we are of the firm opinion that any adjustment with the TMC is against the immediate and short-term interest as well as long-term interest of the party. The TMC has betrayed the trust of the Congress leadership in 2001 and 2012. They have never been consistent and nobody expects them to be. There is every possibility that the TMC would back-stab the Congress as soon as elections are over.”

“Rahulji patiently heard our sentiments against an alliance with the Trinamul for the Lok Sabha polls. He told us that he would convey our sentiments against the alliance to the Congress president,” former state Congress chief and MLA Manas Bhuniya said after coming out of an half-an-hour meeting with the party’s all-India vice president.

Bhuniya was among a host of state Congress leaders, including three junior Union ministers from Bengal, who met Rahul at the AICC headquarters on 24 Akbar Road.

“We told Rahulji that an alliance with Trinamul in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and in the 2011 Assembly polls had weakened the organisation in Bengal. Moreover, an alliance with Trinamul, whose sole objective is to liquidate our organisation, would demoralise our party ranks and workers,” he said.

Junior railway minister Adhir Chowdhury and junior Union minister for urban development Deepa Das Munshi drew Rahul’s attention on how some Union cabinet ministers — like health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad — had been praising chief minister Mamata Banerjee during their visits to Bengal.

“We argued against any form of alliance with Trinamul because of their sole objective of marginalising the Congress in Bengal,” said Pradip Bhattacharya, state PCC chief.

Rahul at one point asked if the party was capable of going it alone but didn’t give any commitment.

The Bihar question is fundamentally different from Bengal as an alliance with Lalu Prasad can cloud Rahul’s strong pitch against corruption. The Congress has been making the possible return of B.S. Yeddyurappa a political issue in Karnataka although he has not yet been convicted. Lalu Prasad has been sentenced to jail in a corruption case and is out on bail.

The Congress entered into an alliance with the JMM in Jharkhand when Shibu Soren, who is entangled in several cases, stepped aside, making way for his son Hemant Soren.

The Congress is looking for a similar face-saving formula in Bihar, expecting Lalu Prasad to appoint a new party chief, which is proving to be a knotty affair.

Lalu Prasad cannot contest elections under the new legal scheme but he continues to be the face of the RJD and that has caused dithering in the Congress.

Rahul was initially inclined to have an understanding with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) but the dynamics within the party changed slowly when feedback from the state suggested a revival of Lalu Prasad’s political clout.

Rahul said today: “We honoured your sentiments in 2009 and even now we will not have an alliance if your honour is not protected.” Honour, in this context, lies in the number of seats; the Congress went alone in the 2009 Lok Sabha election when Lalu Prasad announced a seat adjustment with Ram Vilas Paswan’s LJP, leaving just two seats for the Congress.

Many AICC members who were here to attend yesterday’s session said the party should contest on its own this time as going with Lalu Prasad again would destroy the Congress.

One leader said: “If we are sure we will come back to power, we can make compromises. If we are not sure of UPA III, we must fight alone.”