Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Congress honeymoon with Trinamool sours


Less than four months after its historic victory in the West Bengal Assembly elections, the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance appears to be in trouble: a section of the State Congress is pressing the national leadership that the party should go it alone in the next panchayat polls.
On Monday, a delegation, consisting of some MLAs, district presidents and a handful of PCC general secretaries, met AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi and Congress Working Committee member in charge of West Bengal Shakeel Ahmed here to place this demand — as well as complain about poaching on each other's workers and the fight across the State over party offices.
Officially, the Congress is putting on a brave face. Congress president Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel said: “Yes, we've received complaints and are trying to sort out the problems through discussions with Trinamool leaders.”
But given that the difference in votes polled by the Congress-Trinamool combine and the Left Front was roughly seven per cent in the polls earlier this year, a split in the alliance's votes could give the Left Front a shot in the arm it so badly needs. The last panchayat polls in the State in 2008 gave the first sign of cracks in the Left citadel.
The State Congress' demand that the party contest local elections separately also comes in the wake of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee not just torpedoing the proposed Teesta river waters accord with Bangladesh — she refused to accompany Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his recent visit to that country — but also not attending Saturday's meeting of the National Integration Council here.

Objections

Ms. Banerjee's objections to the Teesta accord stemmed less from her concerns for her State and more from her desire to damage the Congress' prospects in north Bengal, where it won a majority of the seats in the Assembly polls, a Congress functionary here told The Hindu,
Not just that, the functionary said, the fact that the agreement was not signed meant a World Bank loan of $1.3 billion to build an irrigation system would not be forthcoming now — it also means the State will not have the capacity to absorb more than 25 per cent of the waters until the system is constructed. The rest of the Teesta's waters flow into Bangladesh and the sea. This point, Congress sources said, is gradually sinking in among voters, especially in north Bengal.

Read as a snub

Given that the Trinamool is a member of the United Progressive Alliance with a presence in the Union Council of Ministers, Ms. Banerjee's no-show at the NIC meeting is being read as a snub to the central leadership. In fact, this has upset the Congress more than her party's objection to the draft of the Communal Violence Bill — that it violated the federal principle.
“Honest merit-based differences on matters of law can arise,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, adding, “they will always be — and have always been — amicably sorted out because they are bona fide differences. To play up these differences and to exaggerate them as political differences is wrong.”

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