The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Psst! Whisper of a deal

Asansol, May 2: Pranab Mukherjee has got it wrong and Biman Bose is spot on.

The Opposition in the industrial belt here is now an amalgam of the Trinamul Congress and the Congress, and local leaders are bent on preventing a split in anti-Left votes.

The state Congress president had rubbished Mamata Banerjee's claim that grassroots workers of his party and hers had worked out an understanding not to harm each other, though Bose, the state CPM secretary, had been saying that such a pact was a distinct possibi-lity.

Over the past fortnight, Congress leaders of four constituencies ' Asansol, Kulti, Barabani and Hirapur ' have hit the road against their own quartet and pleaded with the people to vote for 'stronger Trinamul candidates'.

Far away in Calcutta or Murshidabad, a Congress stronghold where Mukherjee campaigned extensively, he may not have known what was happening in a pocket of CPM bastion Burdwan.

Asked about the Asansol alliance, Mamata, who had earlier said there was a Congress-Trinamul understanding in 80 per cent of the seats that went to polls in the first two phases, said: 'I told you so. It's a political necessity.'

Except Kulti, which the Forward Bloc holds, all three seats belong to Trinamul. In Asansol, Kalyan Banerjee had defeated his CPM rival by 2,213 votes. In Barabani, Manik Upadhyay had won by 4,734 votes, and in Hirapur, Moloy Ghatak trounced his nearest rival, an Independent, by 22,534 votes.

Trinamul was a Congress ally then. It is a BJP ally now.

Tapas Banerjee, the Burdwan president of the Congress, said: 'The CPM had always thrived on disunity in the Opposition ranks. So, we decided to sink our differences and support Trinamul.'

But what's wrong with the Congress candidates' 'They aren't strong enough,' he said.

State Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya was 'unaware of any official understanding' in the Asansol belt. 'But we have little to do if our grassroots workers have tied up with Trinamul,' he added.

Shampa Sarkar, the Congress candidate from Asansol, said: 'A section of the party has ditched me.'

The Congress had left Kulti to ally Lok Janshakti Party. Its nominee, Shiu Mallik Paswan, said: 'We are part of the same government in Delhi but here the Congress is with Trinamul.'

Whether state Cong-ress lead- ers delib erately stayed away from campaigning here is not known, but the absence has convinced activists that they do not mind the deal. 'Not a single leader came anywhere near. Isn't that enough reason for us to support Trinamul' asked the district Congress president.

In contrast, Trinamul has pumped in all its resources. There was MLA Saugata Roy and former chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray, not to mention Mamata herself.

Javed Ali, who runs a tea stall on GT Road, said he had to 'keep all parties happy'. But he was aware of what Mamata said on Sunday: 'Didi was saying that the government would topple. Will it'

Pouring tea from his soot-stained kettle, he added: 'Is bar, Congress aur Trinamul jamke lar rahe hain. (The Congress and Trinamul are giving a tough fight this time).'

'Vote for Trinamul is our slogan. We cannot back a losing candidate as that would help the CPM,' said the Congress's Kulti secretary, Chandi Chatterjee.

His own party's S.M. Jalal 'is a good and respectable person but an outsider', Chatterjee added.

Sushil Acharya, whose brother Dipak had lost his job as Sen & Raleigh shut down, said: 'We know Trinamul would not be able to reopen the closed factories here. But let us give them a chance.'

Bablu Ghosh, whose glass factory closed down six years ago, said: 'This time, we are all for Trinamul.'

Samar Ganguly, a CPM leader of Kulti, dismissed all this talk about an alliance. 'Last time, the Congress and Trinamul had an off-icial alliance and the Left got 21 of the 26 seats in Burdwan. We are not bothered about their bonhomie.'

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