Pact reached after Rahul Gandhi favourite is dropped
But the new Congress-TMC deal has hurt Congress veterans, at least one of whom says he might quit the party
After much speculation, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress party have reached a final seat-sharing agreement for the West Bengal election this summer. They would contest the election in alliance. Of the 294 assembly seats, the Trinamool Congress would field candidates in 227, the Congress in 65 and the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) in 2 seats.
The deal has an interesting nugget: the TMC dropped Mohua Moitra, once a favourite of Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi. What may have sealed it is the removal of Moitra from the list of candidates.
A former JP Morgan executive, Moitra was the prize face of Rahul Gandhi’s Youth Congress campaign in West Bengal. In her earlier list, Banerjee had fielded Moitra from Jalangi, a seat in the heart of Congress stronghold of Murshidabad. TMC sources confirmed to Tehelka that in the new arrangement, Idrish Ali, the Trinamool Candidate for Canning East, has been shifted to Jalangi and Moitra no longer figures on the list.
Earlier, on 18 March, after talks between both parties had ended inconclusively, Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee had unilaterally declared her list of 228 candidates. She had given the Congress party time until 4pm on 21 March to accept her offer.
The Congress had earlier asked for 90 seats, and then reportedly agreed on 70 during negotiations in Kolkata. The main points of contention were the number of seats and winnability of seats. The TMC's handing of tickets to Congress defectors and TMC candidates replacing sitting veteran Congress MLAs were also major roadblocks.
Over the weekend, state Congress leaders visiting New Delhi had given the high command their own list of 90 candidates indicating that the TMC’s offer was not acceptable to them. The final negotiations were pending UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s return from London.
After a conversation between Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee on 21 March, the TMC agreed to spare one more seat—Canning East seat in South 24 Parganas district, taking the magic number to 65. Even though many of the Congress’s earlier demands remain unfulfilled—the party has not got a single seat in Kolkata—for instance, the Congress accepted the TMC’s offer.
“No one was adamant at the top level. It was only the state-level Congress leaders asking for more seats. Now Sonia Gandhi has spoken to Mamata Banerjee and all issues have been resolved,” Trinamool MP Kalyan Banerjee told Tehelka.
In the new arrangement, a TMC candidate would contest the Calcutta Port seat replacing six-time Congress MLA Ram Pyare Ram. This seat was a major sticking point when Union Finance Pranab Mukherjee met Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata last week.
Speaking to Tehelka, Pyare Ram said he may consider leaving the Congress party. “I have served the Congress for decades. It seems all my 50 years of service have amounted to nothing. It seems as if my constituency has been considered small and insignificant,” he said. “I came to New Delhi in case I am required. But, I was not called for any of the meetings. I will return to Kolkata now and meet people in my area. I will decide what to do next after speaking with Congress workers. I want to take them along in my decision. I wish the Congress party had done likewise as well.”
With the alliance worked out, the TMC has also released its election manifesto. In her press conference, Banerjee stressed the importance of land banks and employment banks, and health for all.
Responding to a question about industry, Banerjee said, “Don’t worry about money. Money will flow in West Bengal. Many industrialists are willing to invest in West Bengal. If your motto and mission is okay, if you are doing something from your heart, I don’t think money is a factor. Industry and agriculture are two sides of the same coin. Both are important to us.”
Tusha Mittal is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.