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Rahul gauges mood on feelers

- Bengal leaders stick to public stand of opposition to Trinamul alliance

New Delhi, March 3: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today told senior leaders from Bengal that Trinamul had sent feelers for an alliance, but the state party team spoke against an understanding with Mamata Banerjee, sources said.

“We do not want an alliance (with Trinamul) and that has been conveyed to Rahulji,” said a senior Congress leader who was present at the meeting.

According to the sources, Rahul assured the Bengal leaders at the closed-door meeting that their views would be considered at the time of finalising the list of candidates. He also said that senior leaders would have to contest elections if the party asked them to.

Congress insiders said although Rahul was sympathetic to the views of the state unit, the final word would not be pronounced immediately as the election dates are yet to be announced. Hectic parleys would be on till the process of filing nominations starts.

Privately, most sitting Congress as well as Trinamul MPs are said to be in favour of an alliance.

Although Trinamul has publicly discounted the possibility of an alliance, it is said to be keen on an understanding because of uncertainties associated with a four-cornered contest that would divide the votes.

The possibility of the Congress and the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamul sinking their differences and joining hands to keep the BJP out of power could not be ruled out, the sources said.

In the 2009 general election, of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, Trinamul had contested in 27, leaving 14 for the Congress.

Congress insiders said that given a free hand, the Congress vice-president might have preferred to go it alone.

“The Congress vice-president feels that alliances have cost the party dearly in Tamil Nadu and Bengal,” said a Congress insider.

The appointment of junior railway minister Adhir Chowdhury as the Bengal unit chief ahead of the elections is being seen as an indication of Rahul’s opinion against an alliance with Trinamul holding sway. Chowdhury is a known Mamata critic and an advocate of going it alone in Bengal.

Congress leaders said Rahul was reluctant for a tie-up because Trinamul quit UPA II in 2012 and Mamata attacked the Centre non-stop after that.

Mamata, to keep the heat up on the Congress, would address a rally at the Ramlila Maidan next week in the company of Anna Hazare.

Party sources said in case the Congress decides to go it alone in Bengal, the new PCC president’s strategy to field seasoned campaigners in key seats might be put into practice.

“In case the Congress has to contest all seats, then effort has to be put to cause maximum damage to Trinamul in a four-corner fight…. There are seats where we may not be in a position to win but we can upset the Trinamul cart…. Rahulji, too, feels that senior leaders have to contest when asked to,” said a Congress leader.

Several senior leaders, such as MLA Manas Bhuniya, Rajya Sabha MP Pradip Bhattacharya, Abdul Mannan and Shankar Singh, were unhappy with the proposal. Some cited age and health-related issues as factors for their reluctance to contest.

“Rahulji told them categorically that any leader being asked to contest would have to file the nomination,” said a source.

Some of the leaders wanted to field their wives, but Rahul turned down the plea.

Party general secretary and observer for Bengal C.P. Joshi and the PCC president have been told to draw up a list of probable candidates.