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Pitch rises, so do theories

Feb. 28: The Trinamul Congress and the Bengal Congress raised the pitch against an alliance for the Lok Sabha polls today, suggesting that either backroom chats have hit a wall or both sides are digging their heels in to drive a harder bargain.

“We are neither with the communal BJP nor the Congress. Trinamul is with the people. We had fought the panchayat and municipal elections alone and won. We will go alone in the Lok Sabha elections too,” Trinamul leader Mukul Roy said in Delhi today. “Eka aachhi bhalo aachhi (we are fine alone).”

Keeping pace, Bengal Congress president Adhir Chowdhury said in Delhi: “I called on the Congress president to inform her that Congress workers and leaders in the state are against any sort of electoral alliance with the Trinamul Congress for the Lok Sabha polls. We have decided to contest all 42 seats independently.”

Other Congress sources echoed Chowdhury, though they said the party’s central election committee meeting to select the candidates for Bengal might be delayed by a few days.

Since the general election dates have not been announced yet and elbow room still exists for last-minute manoeuvres, opinion was divided on what Trinamul and the Congress were trying to convey to each other.

Sources on both sides agreed that the repeated assertions against any alliance was making it increasingly difficult to reach an understanding.

But the uncertainties that a four-cornered contest entail, especially a perception that the BJP could increase its vote share, appeared to prevent the sources from concluding that the last word has been spoken yet.

Some sources spoke of backroom negotiations some time ago when the Congress wanted 15 of the 42 seats but was offered two with a hint that it could go up to the six that the party had won in 2009. But not much progress has been reported since the unofficial rounds.

“Optimists” — meaning sitting MPs who privately crave for an alliance which makes the election battle easier but will never say so in public — are hearing the sound and fury clues that the door is still ajar for tough negotiations. Known for extraordinary negotiation skills, Mamata Banerjee has had her way almost every time she pitted her wits against the Congress.

But others differ, insisting that the time for a deal had already passed as the Trinamul leadership felt that the Congress did not seize the opportunity.

This claim suggests that Mamata was not averse to an arrangement even when she was publicly discounting such a possibility. However, this camp dismissed such suggestions, saying the chief minister always means what she says, “neither more, nor less”.

In Delhi, Trinamul leader Roy said that although the party would go it alone in Bengal, it was open to alliances outside Bengal.

Roy announced tie-ups with two outfits from Uttar Pradesh — the Peace Party of India (PIP), with its base among underprivileged sections in the east and which polled 12 per cent votes in the Assembly polls, and the Bharatiya Kissan Union (BKU), active among farmers in the west. He said the two outfits had joined hands with Trinamul in support of Mamata and Anna Hazare’s national campaign.

Roy said Mamata and Anna would launch the national campaign with a rally at the Ramlila Maidan on March 12.

The PIP, headed by Mohammad Ayub, said that it would support a “clean and simple” leader like Mamata.

BKU leader Rishipal was present at the Trinamul office in Delhi to announce the tie-up. PIP and BKU leaders will take part in the Mamata-Anna rally on March 12.

Roy said the Jharkhand People’s Party (JPP) and the United Minority Front of Assam had also decided to align with Trinamul.