The Telegraph
Thursday , March 17 , 2011
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Cong, Didi lock nerves
Mamata on Wednesday. Picture by Amit Datta

New Delhi, March 16: The Congress has requested Mamata Banerjee for time till Sonia Gandhi returns from abroad on Sunday but the Trinamul Congress leader had not given an assurance till late tonight.

According to sources, Mamata has told Sonia’s political secretary Ahmed Patel that Trinamul would announce its candidates by late tomorrow evening if a seat-sharing deal could not be finalised by then.

Most Congress leaders in Delhi said Mamata was being “very rigid and grossly unreasonable”, adding there was no point succumbing to her “blackmail”. But the conservative opinion is still in favour of working out a compromise in the larger interest of the coalition at the national level.

Asked about the state of the alliance on Wednesday night, a senior leader told The Telegraph: “It has certainly hit a rough patch.” Although those involved in negotiations with the Trinamul chief were cautious and optimistic, other Congress leaders felt that what Mamata was doing was “unjust” and wanton violation of coalition dharma. The “wrong perception” that Mamata does not require the Congress to dethrone the Left should be corrected before the seat-sharing formula is decided, a leader said.

A senior leader said the Congress would not accept the 24-hour deadline set by the Trinamul leader. Patel as well as Pranab Mukherjee tried to reason with Mamata that no decision should be taken in haste but the issue hadn’t been settled till late in the night.

Congress leaders said the “number of seats had now become irrelevant” as the constituencies offered by Mamata were unacceptable. “She is not ready to accept a principle or a criterion for seat distribution,” a leader said.

The sources said Mamata offered only 21 seats in south Bengal to the Congress, out of which 15 were won by the Left by a margin of over 40,000 votes. In north Bengal, a Congress stronghold, she is offering only 23 of the 53 seats which one state leader described as “plain injustice”. “Our state leaders will outright reject this, they will be destroyed.”

Some leaders said if the high command “asks us to digest this insult”, the results of the election will be “surprising” — a veiled threat of sabotage. Rahul Gandhi has submitted a list of 30 candidates from the Youth Congress to Mukherjee with a plea that the share from his quota should be large if the party contests all the seats. If there is an alliance, Youth Congress leaders will not get more than three to four seats.

That Rahul submitted such a list itself is an indication the Congress is keeping all options open, although it is convinced an alliance with Trinamul will be good for Bengal.

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