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Setback for INDIA bloc: Mamata says will go alone in Bengal for LS polls

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Kolkata:  In a major setback to the opposition INDIA bloc, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced that her party has decided to go alone in the state in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Banerjee’s comments came a day before Congress leader Rahul Gandhi-led Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra will enter West Bengal.

“I had given them (Congress) a proposal (on seat-sharing), but they refused it at the outset. Our party has now decided to go alone in Bengal,” Banerjee said amid the seat-negotiation tussle between the Congress and the TMC.

The surprise announcement of the TMC’s decision to contest the upcoming Lok Sabha polls independently, a day before Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra’ entered Bengal, caught the grand old party off guard, prompting them to state, “no one can imagine the existence of the opposition INDIA bloc without West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee.”

The TMC boss also denied media reports of seat-sharing talks, and asserted that she has not spoken to anyone in the Congress on the issue.

“Now, we have decided that there is no relation with the Congress in Bengal,” she said.

Minutes after the announcement, Congress General Secretary Jairam Ramesh addressing a press conference in Assam said that Banerjee’s party Trinamool Congress is an “important pillar” of the opposition alliance.

“No one can imagine the INDIA alliance without Mamata ji. The INDIA bloc will fight the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal and all (partners) will participate,” he said.

According to sources, the TMC’s offer of two seats to the grand old party based on its 2019 Lok Sabha election performance, triggered tension among the leaders, as the arrangement was deemed insufficient.

The CPI(M)-led Left Front, Congress, and the TMC are part of the 28-party INDIA bloc.

The TMC boss also said the party will have no relationship with the Congress in the state.

“Let the Congress fight 300 seats on its own (in the country). The regional parties are together and can contest the rest. However, we will not tolerate any interference by them (Congress) in Bengal,” she said.

The TMC chief had made a similar remark during a recent rally in Kolkata, where she batted for the idea of regional leaders spearheading the fight against the BJP in specific regions, suggesting that Congress independently contest 300 Lok Sabha seats.

Expressing her commitment to the opposition alliance, Banerjee said on Wednesday, “At the national level, we, as a part of the INDIA bloc, will decide our strategy after the elections. All the regional parties will stay united and the opposition front doesn’t belong to any single party. We will do whatever it takes to defeat the BJP.”

On the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, which is scheduled to enter West Bengal on Thursday, she alleged that the Congress did not inform her about the Yatra’s itinerary in the state.

“As a gesture of courtesy, did they (Congress) let me know that they are coming to Bengal for the Yatra? I am not aware of it,” she said.

The Yatra, currently in Assam, is set to enter West Bengal through Bakshirhat in Cooch Behar district on January 25. After a two-day recess on January 26-27, it will traverse Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Uttar Dinajpur and Darjeeling before reaching Bihar on January 29.|

It will re-enter West Bengal on January 31 through Malda and travel via Murshidabad, both strongholds of the Congress, before leaving the state on February 1.

Banerjee’s announcement of going solo in Bengal was mocked by the Bengal BJP which said the INDIA bloc alliance lacked any ideological conviction and was built on an anti-Modi platform.

“Did this alliance have any ideological conviction? It was all about just opposing the Prime Minister and the BJP to protect their own political identities,” BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said.

State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, a vocal TMC critic, has maintained that it wouldn’t “beg” for seats from Bengal’s ruling party.

In the 2019 elections, TMC had secured 22 seats, Congress won two, and the BJP bagged 18 seats in the state.

The Trinamool Congress had recently abstained from a recent INDIA bloc virtual meeting and emphasised the necessity for Congress to recognise its limitations in Bengal, and permit the TMC to spearhead the state’s political battle.

TMC had previously allied with the Congress in the 2001 assembly polls, the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and the 2011 assembly polls, leading to the ousting of the CPI (M)-led Left Front government of 34 years.

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