With Bengal going to polls some time in April-May next year, Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s text message to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wishing her on Diwali triggered speculations in the political circles. However, West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said: “Wishing Mamata Banerjee does not mean that Sonia Gandhi is going to forge an alliance with her. It is sheer concoction and exaggeration. Sonia simply showed the political courtesy. Mamata Banerjee’s party has large numbers in Parliament. She is the leader of a political party. She is not alien to Sonia Gandhi.”
Around 5.30 pm on Wednesday, Sonia had sent a text to Mamata, conveying her wishes for Diwali. Mamata had promptly replied. The message was sent by Sonia from her personal cellphone.
Top Congress sources said it was too early to talk about alliances in Bengal, but significantly, did not rule out the possibility of forging a tie-up with Mamata. However, they believe that the Trinamool chief is on a strong wicket and is unlikely to opt for an alliance.
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The experiment in Bihar, where the Congress joined hands with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Lalu Prasad’s RJD, has worked well for the party as it found itself on the winning side for the first time after the 2014 Lok Sabha election defeat. The Congress believes that though the BJP is not a force to reckon with in Bengal, but going alone meant fighting for electoral space with the Left and the BJP against the ruling Trinamool.
“We could end up as also-ran. But still it is too early to talk about forming an alliance. Parliament session is around the corner. Why don’t you see the Congress president’s message in that context?” a senior Congress leader asked.
In the Winter Session of Parliament, beginning November 26, the Congress would like the Opposition to remain united to take on the Modi government, both in terms of its policies, issues like intolerance and on its legislative agenda. The Congress also sees a long-term danger in talks about formation of a viable anti-BJP coalition at the Centre, comprising the likes of Nitish Kumar and Mamata Banerjee as it could take away the Congress’ space.
What had happened in Bihar, he said, was unique. “Democratic and progressive forces came together in Bihar to defeat the communal forces. But in Bengal, the situation in different. The BJP does not have any tangible existence in Bengal which may cause worry for the Congress. Here we are fighting the authoritarian rule perpetrated by Mamata Banerjee,” Chowdhury added.
Meanwhile, according to another school of thought, Sonia’s message comes at a time when Trinamool’s role in Rajya Sabha has become key.
After the BJP-led NDA lost the Bihar elections, many claimed this would act as a hurdle in the party’s long-term goal of achieving majority in Rajya Sabha — a requirement to get non-money bills passed in the Parliament.
Five Rajya Sabha seats from Bihar will be vacant following the retirement of five JD-U members in 2016, another six seats from the state will be vacant due to retirement of four JD-U and two BJP members in 2018. The numbers that the NDA got in Bihar Assembly election result on Sunday will, however, get it only one out of five Rajya Sabha seats in 2016 and one out of six seats in 2018. The overall figures for NDA from Bihar, in Rajya Sabha, will remain unchanged by 2018.
Bengal has 16 Rajya Sabha seats. Among these 16 seats, the Trinamool has 12 members. Only Uttar Pradesh, with 31 seats, Maharashtra with 19 and Tamil Nadu with 18, have more seats in the Rajya Sabha than Bengal. “Right now, the Congress knows that allying with the Left in the Bengal Assembly might lead to significant gains ahead of the elections in the state. But as a part of a long term national strategy against the Modi-led government, it’s clear that Banerjee will play a key role,” said the leader.
Bengal Congress president Rahul Sinha said on Thursday: “It is hardly surprising that the Congress and Trinamool are made from the same cloth. Right now, Mamata is scared that her government has not worked all year and is looking for strategic alliances to try and rescue the situation.”