The Telegraph
Wednesday , March 7 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Phew! My friend has lost
- Trinamul loads region gun, eyes grant and thrust into Cong belts

Calcutta, March 6: Trinamul is hoping to gain from ally Congress’s losses in the Assembly elections.

Trinamul Congress leaders today spoke of mounting pressure on the Centre to grant the Mamata Banerjee government’s longstanding demands and, closer home, making inroads into Congress strongholds in Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur.

“With the Congress weakened by the poll results, Trinamul is in a position of advantage. It has to be seen how the Centre behaves with the Bengal government in future,” said Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP.

State panchayat and rural development minister Subrata Mukherjee stressed the same point at Writers’ Buildings. “Some Delhi leaders had said the days of the regional parties were over, but the poll results from the five states have shown that Indian politics is now ruled by the regional parties,” Mukherjee said.

“This trend will gain momentum with every passing day because the Congress and the BJP are losing their grip over their former bastions.”

The impact of ally pressure on a battered Congress was already in evidence in the capital today, with the Centre referring yesterday’s cotton export ban to a Group of Ministers for review following protests from agriculture minister Sharad Pawar. The NCP leader, who claims to have been kept in the dark about the ban, had earlier taken the matter up with the Prime Minister today, PTI reported.

At Writers’, Mukherjee lauded the Trinamul performance in Manipur, where it has won seven seats to emerge as the second-largest party after the Congress.

“We did not field candidates to form governments in these states. Still, we think that we have put up a good show. We have won seven seats in Manipur and put up a tough fight in two seats in Uttar Pradesh,” the minister said.

He gave Mamata, who had campaigned in Manipur, the credit. “Had she campaigned in the other states, we could have performed better there too. Still, we are happy with what we have achieved.”

Trinamul MP Kalyan Banerjee had yesterday set the tone for future hard bargaining with the Centre, almost as if in anticipation of today’s results. At an all-party meeting, Banerjee had demanded the states be given a larger share of the taxes collected by the Centre.

A senior Trinamul leader said the Bengal government would now step up pressure on a “weakened” Congress and UPA government to concede two of its principal demands: special financial assistance and a three-year moratorium on the interest on the debt accumulated during Left rule.

“We will wait and watch how events unfold during the budget session,” he said.

Mamata has summoned Trinamul MPs to Calcutta for a meeting on Friday to prepare the strategy for the budget session, which starts on Monday. Trinamul leaders say they expect the Congress high command to be more accommodating now to try and keep Mamata in good humour.

Some of them feel that a key indicator of the Congress’s attitude could be whether it invites Trinamul to be a coalition partner in Manipur, where the two parties contested the polls separately.

“But we cannot forget that Trinamul is the second-largest party in Manipur now and therefore the principal Opposition party. We have bagged 10 per cent of the votes,” said junior shipping minister Mukul Roy.

State Congress leaders said the high command had been hoping for a “much better” showing, which would have allowed it to fight off the heat from its most “troublesome” ally. Mamata’s opposition had come in the way of FDI in retail, the Lokpal bill and the proposed national counter terrorism centre. Her objections had stalled the signing of the Teesta treaty with Bangladesh.

Trinamul’s Rajya Sabha tally is set to increase after the next round of polls to the Upper House, where the Congress is in a minority. Today’s results may also handicap the Congress during the presidential polls and provide the allies with a bigger say.

Trinamul leaders are also eyeing local gains a slice of the Congress vote in its Bengal bastions. “The Congress is a part of the state government because it rode piggyback on us. The time has come to further marginalise it in Bengal,” a Trinamul leader said.

State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya tried to make light of the matter: “Why should the UP results make any difference in Bengal? Here the equations are different.”

In private, though, Congress leaders concede that the party now faces a battle for survival in Bengal. The results have come as a damper especially for the Mamata baiters in the state Congress, who have often hit the streets in protest against her government’s functioning.

“They will be forced to keep quiet for now,” a north Bengal Congress MLA said.