M A I N   N E W S

Cong free to leave us, says Mamata
Anita Katyal
Our Political Correspondent

New Delhi/Kolkata, Jan 7
With Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today daring the Congress to walk out of the alliance, the party struck a conciliatory note saying differences in a coalition were natural and that their differences would be sorted out.

Relations between the two alliance partners have steadily deteriorated over the past few months but tensions escalated today with Mamata Banerjee lashing out at the Congress and daring it to walk out of the alliance.

The immediate provocation was a series of protests by Congressmen and student bodies of the Congress and the CPM against renaming ‘Indira Bhavan’ as ‘Nazrul Bhavan’ and the assault of two college principals by Trinamool Congress supporters. What came as the last straw was Congress ministers joining the protests.

Mamata accused Congressmen in the state of launching a false and malicious campaign against her government.

Referring to the assaults, she pointed out that police had arrested the culprits, including Trinamul supporters. “If they are unhappy, they are welcome to quit; the door will be kept open for them,” she fumed.

Putting up a brave face, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi sought to play down the Trinamul Congress chief’s angry outburst. “Disagreements do occur in a coalition arrangement. I would request all concerned not to react aggressively,” he said, adding that there may be differences between alliance partners but harsh words should be avoided.

Singhvi further maintained that these differences would be sorted out through discussions. “ Dialogue is always on in a coalition...channels of communication have not broken down,” he underlined.

Reacting to Mamata Bannerjee’s remark that the Congress was scared of her party, Singhvi said, “There is no question of the 125-year-old all-India party of being scared of anyone or any political party,” but was quick to add that he was not naming any particular regional or national party.

Mamata Banerjee’s ultimatum to the Congress follows a series of close encounters between the alliance partners. The state units of the two parties have been at loggerheads with each other as the two parties are fighting hard to protect their political turf with an eye on next year’s crucial local elections.

This face-off comes shortly after the Congress was badly humiliated when it was forced to defer a vote on the Lokpal Bill in the Rajya Sabha recently following objections from a determined Mamata Banerjee. She also played spoilspsort by not allowing the ruling alliance to proceed with the Pension Reforms Bill. She had embarrassed the UPA government with her opposition to the Centre’s decision to allow foreign investment in retail trade. Earlier, she had pulled out of the Prime Minister’s trip to Dhaka when she raised objections to the Teesta river waters treaty at the last minute. The next flashpoint could come during the presentation of the Union budget in March.

Although it has been at the receiving end of the TMC chief’s periodic tantrums, the Congress has no choice but to grin and bear it. The UPA government at the Centre is critically dependent on the support of TMC’s 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha where it has a wafer-thin majority.

The Congress is hoping to reduce its dependence on the TMC after the upcoming assembly elections which, it hopes, will lead to a reconfiguration of its relationship with other political parties, particularly Mulayum Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP), which has 22 members in the Lok Sabha.

While the SP’s support will allow the UPA government to breathe a little easy, the Congress has ruled out a break-up with the TMC. Soon after the assembly polls, it will have to kickstart the process of the election of the next President. Given the strength of the Congress in the various state assemblies, which could improve after the coming polls, the Congress needs the TMC’s support for the election of its Presidential nominee.





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