The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Priya asked to negotiate with Mamata
Priya and Mamata: Fingers crossed

Calcutta, Sept. 24: Sonia Gandhi has assigned Priya Ranjan Das Munshi the task of keeping in touch with Mamata Banerjee to forge an alliance to counter the CPM, the Congress’s friend in Delhi, foe here.

A senior AICC leader said tonight that “impressed” by the Congress win in the Malda byelection, “madam” has instructed the Union information and broadcasting minister to negotiate with Mamata and see to it that the Congress and the Trinamul Congress work together in the panchayat polls due next year.

“The AICC leadership is serious about forging an electoral understanding with Mamata in the near future to co- unter the CPM, and Das Munshi has been asked to oversee the job,” the leader said, preferring anonymity.

State Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya said tonight the party has decided not to field a candidate for the Islampur Assembly byelection under instructions from the high command. The seat fell vacant with the death of the CPM legislator. “As Trinamul had won Islampur in 2001, the AICC wants us to offer it to Mamata,” he said.

Mamata had not fielded a candidate in Malda in honour of the late Congress leader Ghani Khan Chowdhury, ensuring a direct contest between the Congress and the CPM. The Congress returned the favour in Katwa and Bongaon, prompting Trinamul to do the same in Purulia.

Although the CPM retained the Purulia and Katwa Lok Sabha constituencies, the Congress won the Malda parliamentary seat by over 80,000 votes and Trinamul the Bongaon Assembly seat by a margin bigger than last time.

After the results were declared, the Congress president called up Mamata to congratulate her for the “performance”.

“Didi is in a good mood since Soniaji spoke to her,” a key Trinamul functionary said.

The party chief has told close associates that she will take a decision on her ties with the BJP-led NDA after Puja.

Das Munshi is learnt to have reminded Sonia about Mamata’s propensity to take hasty decisions but the Congress chief said a relationship with her party would be prudent to “create pressure’’ on the CPM.

A Trinamul source said Mamata was “touched” by Congress leader Abdul Mannan’s presence during her protests against the government’s land acquisition in Singur.

Das Munshi attended a meeting at former mayor Subrata Mukherjee’s residence on Thursday to discuss a strategy to build up an alliance with Mamata. Mukherjee said “Priyada” and (AICC general secretary) Margaret Alva are “in touch with Mamata to explore the possibility of a tie-up”.

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