The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Before Puja, Cong bows to devi Mamata
Alva demands CM apology

New Delhi, Sept. 26: The Congress today likened Mamata Banerjee to Goddess Durga, grabbing the Singur incident to cement its relations with the Trinamul leader on Sonia Gandhi’s instructions.

Sonia conveyed to Margaret Alva, the general secretary in charge of Bengal, that this was the “opportune” moment to put the alliance with Trinamul, which resumed with the recent bypolls, on firm ground and the Congress should not “dither”.

After the signal from the party president, information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi rushed to Calcutta to offer Mamata a shoulder to lean on.

Alva called Mamata a “political Durga”, demanding an apology from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for the police allegedly roughing her up this morning when she was evicted from Singur.

“This incident happened when Durga puja is being celebrated. This is not a party issue. The chief minister should have considered that at a time when people, especially women, should be respected, the police pushed Mamata around. Her sari was torn.

“Bengal has a culture and tradition of respect for women, of worshipping ‘stree shakti’ (women’s power). This doesn’t speak highly of the police and the administration. I’m sure the chief minister will condemn the attack,” Alva said.

Mamata’s wardrobe may now sport a torn sari, but the Trinamul leader made it a point to send Alva a bright pink cotton one this puja, as she does every year.

This time, however, the gesture went beyond tokenism, because Congress sources said they saw Singur as a “turning point” in Bengal politics and the “beginning of the crystallisation” of a “long-term” partnership with Mamata.

“Politics is not just about seat-sharing and electoral understandings. It’s more to do with battles on the ground. Separately, we know and Mamata knows, we can’t take on the Left. Together, we can if we sustain the fight. We have feedback the Left is rattled.”

They added that Mamata had been advised by Alva and other “well-wishers” in the Congress that there was no point sticking with the National Democratic Alliance. They argued that her sole supporter in the NDA, George Fernandes, was on his way out.

“The Bengal BJP hates her. Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani don’t have as much say in the party affairs as earlier. The BJP campaigned against her in the recent byelections. What’s the point of her continuing in the NDA'” they asked.

There were practical problems, though. Apart from the Congress-Left arrangement at the Centre, so long as Pranab Mukherjee heads the Bengal unit, they are unsure how much headway the party could make with Mamata.

“It’s a blessing that Pranab Mukherjee is not around at this juncture. Or else, we may not have been that upfront,” the sources said. They added that the clamour for a new president is certain to begin now.

However, there is scepticism if Mamata would commit herself to a long-term partner- ship. She might instead wait for a “moment of her choice” to find new allies before the next election.

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