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Congress-TMC differences a headache for leadership

Smita Gupta


If Left fights for survival, Congress battles to save identity

Where is Trinamool in Murshidabad, ask rebels


BAHRAMPUR: At the Congress office in Bahrampur, headquarters ofMurshidabad district, the tone is distinctly rebellious: the party here is Bahrampur MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, who has fielded four Independents against the Trinamool Congress candidates in Harihorpara, Jalangi, Bhagabangola and Karimpur — all owing allegiance to him.

“As far as we are concerned,” the former district Congress chief, Atish Sinha, dismissing a question on the independents, says, “We are contesting all 22 Assembly segments in this district, 18 on the official symbol, and four on a different symbol.”

Mr. Sinha's defiant assertion comes 48 hours after the four rebels, along with eight others — also contesting as Independents — were expelled by the Congress.

Indeed, in the West Bengal Assembly elections, the uneasy relationship between the Trinamool and the Congress has become a headache to party leaders. If Mr. Chowdhury is backing four Independents on what he considers his personal turf, Raiganj MP Deepa Das Munsi is supporting two rebels in her area, from Islampur and Hemtabad. “When we are forced to share seats with the Trinamool, it hurts because we, the six Congress MPs, have to share seats but the Trinamool's 19 MPs don't have to. This is discrimination,” she tells journalists.

If the Left Front is fighting for its survival, the Congress, in an interesting twist of circumstances, is battling to save its very identity. “People are asking me why I am backing independents when there is a strong wave in favour of the Congress-Trinamool alliance,” Mr. Chaudhury says. “I am telling them that it is because of the political necessity to retain the Congress' traditional base in Murshidabad.”

The rationale for the rebellion is that if the Congress concedes seats in areas where it is strong to the Trinamool, then in future elections too Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee will claim the Lok Sabha seats there. Today, all three Lok Sabha seats in the district are held by Congress MPs: Mr. Choudhury, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee (Jangipur) and Abdul Mannan Hossain (Murshidabad).

Mr. Sinha adds that of the 62 seats in the zilla parishad, the Congress holds 31 and the Trinamool none; in the municipal corporation, the Congress won four of the seven seats, while the Left Front took the other three; and in the gram panchayat, the Congress has 152 of the 255 seats and the rest are with the Left Front. “Where is the Trinamool in Murshidabad district? There has been a spate of political murders in the district since 2009. No Trinamool worker is either a victim or accused,” he says, with a nice touch of irony. Of course, he hastens to add that Mr. Chowdhury's primary concern is to see that the Left Front is ousted from power, and that these rebels, once they win, will return to the parent party.

In the run-up to the elections, Ms. Banerjee drove a hard bargain with the Congress, whittling down its demand for close to 100 seats to 65. Adding insult to injury, she took seats where the Congress has a stronger base, such as the four constituencies from where Mr. Chowdhury's rebels are contesting. In the 2006 Assembly elections, the Congress came second to the Left Front.

Curiously, while driving in the district, random conversations this correspondent had with Congress workers gave a fresh insight. At Domkul, 18 km from Jalangi, a group of Congress workers was taking a break. Yes, said Tahasan Ali, they were upset that the leadership “surrendered” to Ms. Banerjee, but the push for poriborton (change) is so strong in the State that it would be best to work for the official alliance candidates, and not be seen as sabotaging to sabotage the effort to oust the Left.

Clearly, these workers are in sync with Mr. Mukherjee's appeal: “Self-interest has to be sacrificed for the greater interest,” he has been saying at election rallies.

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