The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Congress claims exalted status...
- Trinamul rubbishes assertion that Sonia’s party has replaced it as main Opposition

Calcutta, May 17: A resurgent Congress today claimed it was the main Opposition party in Bengal.

Having fared much better than expected in the May 2003 panchayat polls and increasing its number of MPs from two to six in the Lok Sabha elections, former state party chief Somen Mitra staked claim to the status that the Trinamul Congress now enjoys.

“We are the main Opposition party,” said Mitra. “There cannot be any doubt after the showings of the Congress and Trinamul in the just-concluded polls.”

Trinamul, which had eight members in the last Lok Sabha was reduced to one — party chief Mamata Banerjee from Calcutta South.

However, Trinamul was reluctant to part with the tag that reaffirms its position as the strongest anti-CPM camp. “The Congress candidates lost their deposits in 216 Assembly segments out of 294. How can it claim to have performed better than Trinamul' We continue to be the principal Opposition party,” said Pankaj Banerjee, the Trinamul spokesman and leader of Opposition in the Assembly.

Mitra, the MLA from Sealdah, claimed that the Congress had gained seven lakh votes while there had been an erosion of 15 lakh Trinamul votes.

Banerjee said: “The person who is making the claim (Mitra) failed to provide a lead to the Congress candidate from Calcutta Northeast (Moushumi Chatterjee) in his own constituency. She lost her deposit.”

He added that the Congress candidates won in Murshidabad and Jangipur because of the “clout” of Adhir Chowdhury, who was elected from Behrampore.

“In Malda, A.B.A. Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s charisma won him the seat. In Raiganj, it was Priya Ranjan Das Munshi’s personal triumph. The Congress won the Darjeeling seat because GNLF chief Subash Ghisingh suddenly decided to support the party,” Banerjee said.

Mitra would not agree. “The man opposing our claim (read Pankaj Banerjee) has no importance in his own party. It is his leader (Mamata) who matters. The victory and the defeats, everything belong to her.”

However, he admitted that the Congress organisation was “weak” in south Bengal compared to the north. Recalling how party leaders had once crossed over to Trinamul to pocket a ticket before the 2001 Assembly elections, Mitra said the exodus hurt the party.

Some of Mitra’s partymen equated Mamata’s predicament with his during the 1998 Lok Sabha polls. Mitra, then the state Congress president, had resigned after the Congress won only Ghani Khan’s seat, they said.

Trinamul had then bagged half-a-dozen.

Sonia support: Mitra said Congress workers will observe Sanhati Divas (integration day) across Bengal the day Sonia Gandhi takes oath as the Prime Minister.

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