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Mamata 'spare-Cong' signal

Mamata speaks to the media as panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee looks on. Picture by Bishwarup Dutta

Calcutta, May 19: Mamata Banerjee was today said to have instructed the Trinamul leadership to spare the Congress for the time being and go after the BJP in Bengal, the guideline assuming significance in the wake of her meeting with the Congress high command in Delhi.

"Leave the Congress to me. A conflict with them is not necessary at this stage," she was quoted as telling leaders at a closed-door meeting of Trinamul's extended core committee.

The sources said Mamata referred to the National Herald case and spoke about "victimisation" of the Congress leadership. She was also quoted as saying that all Opposition forces trying to resist the BJP were on the "same boat" now.

The leaders said Mamata had realised that a wider Opposition unity against the BJP-led Centre would not be possible at the national level without the Congress in the mix. Having returned yesterday, the chief minister has plans to go to Delhi again for a meeting helmed by the Congress on May 25.

"It shows a great deal of political maturity and throws adequate light on her national plans.... If a decent fight has to be put up against the BJP, the Congress cannot be left out," said a Rajya Sabha member.

"She would have taken kindly to the Left too had they not repeatedly rejected her olive branches," he added.

The relation between the Congress and Trinamul had hit rock bottom last year, when pressure from the Bengal Congress resulted in the national leadership yielding to an electoral understanding with the Left in the Assembly polls.

According to a senior member of the state cabinet, there has been "remarkable" improvement in the relationship since November last year, when the two parties found a common ground to protest demonetisation.

"Besides, the Congress in Bengal is no longer a challenge," he added.

In the Bengal Assembly, which started a new session today, Mamata walked down to the well of the House and spent several minutes exchanging pleasantries with leader of the Opposition Abdul Mannan. Sources said she enquired about his health and also spoke to the leader of the Left legislature party, Sujan Chakraborty.

Observers pointed out that Mannan belonged to the anti-Trinamul lobby in the state Congress and had promised to quit active politics if his party teamed up with Mamata.

State Congress president Adhir Chowdhury today said any kind of bonhomie with Trinamul would be "fatal" for his party in Bengal and only help the BJP.

"The Congress in Bengal has been suffering for a long time because of equations in national politics," he said.

Sources in the Congress had recently quoted Chowdhury as saying he could consider "alternatives" if the party high command ruled in favour of a truck with Trinamul.

Speculation of his switching to the BJP has been rife over the past week.

Sources said Mamata today asked the Trinamul leadership to ensure the BJP did not gain from the repeated electoral debacles of the Congress and the Left in the state.

In order to take on the BJP's plans to drum up support through a series of programmes celebrating Narendra Modi's three years in office, Mamata said her party would celebrate Kazi Nazrul Islam's birth anniversary across Bengal on May 26.

She also announced various programmes from May 27 to July 17 to mark six years in power in the state.


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