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HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014

Chinks in Mamata Banerjee's armour

Saubhadra Chatterji, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 25, 2013
First Published: 23:33 IST(25/9/2013) | Last Updated: 02:42 IST(26/9/2013)

The empire is preparing to strike back.

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After having been branded as the Left’s B Team in West Bengal by none other than its former firebrand youth leader, Mamata Banerjee, the Congress leadership is now drawing up plans for a come-back in the state in 2014.

The Congress’s primary strategy is to regain its clout in Bengal which was once its bastion, as the state has 42 Lok Sabha seats — the highest after UP (80) and Maharashtra (48).

After the drubbing at the hustings in 1977, the next blow for the Congress came from Banerjee, who split the party in 1998 and formed the Trinamool Congress. While the Congress continued to slide steadily, Banerjee emerged as the only non-left force in the state.

On Tuesday, there was a strategy meeting in the Congress “war room” exclusively on West Bengal. The same day, disgruntled Trinamool Congress veteran Somen Mitra arrived in Delhi to meet top Congress leaders, including party chief Sonia Gandhi — too much of a coincidence.

Mitra, however, known for his old-world charm and canniness, kept the media guessing. He even denied having any meeting with the Congress leadership, saying, “I am now busy with organising Durga and Kali pujas. I will take a final decision on the course of action after the festivals.”

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On Wednesday too, there were hectic activities and high drama in Trinamool camps in New Delhi. Another Trinamool MP, former scribe Kunal Ghosh — already tainted for his alleged role in the Saradha chit fund scam — video recorded his version of who did what and gained what from the scam.

Ghosh, who recently earned Banerjee’s ire for sharing the dais with Mitra and threatening to spill the beans on the scam, told HT: “I have given the video record to one of my close associates for safekeeping. If I disappear or die suddenly, that video will come out and serve as my statement to the police, the party leadership and the media.”

Earlier at the “war room” meeting, the discussions focused on the key constituencies in Bengal and the probable areas where the Congress can do better. The strategists, including party general secretary Digvijaya Singh, also discussed how old the TMC MPs are and whether fresh and young faces would do the trick.

In 2014, the Congress has an uphill task to keep its 10-year-old UPA in power because of anti-incumbency sentiments. So, a few extra seats from Bengal won’t hurt. And the Trinamool will be hit extremely hard if a bunch of MPs, including Mitra, leave the party.

Although the split — if it happens at all — may not make the TMC bite the dust, it certainly could contain Banerjee’s unchallenged growth.

The recent results of the panchayat and municipal polls in Bengal clearly show that the Congress alone cannot do much to stop the TMC juggernaut. So, a split in Trinamool can be a huge booster for the Congress in 2014.

The Congress seems to have been exploring the Left option also though the two sides parted ways on a bitter note. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh admitted recently to a CPI(M) delegation: “I am missing your counsel.”

In 2014, it may present a new B Team to the voter – Trinamool defectors. Tastes sweet after having been called the Left’s B Team for years.


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