West Bengal seat-sharing: Cong gets taste of Mamata 'medicine'

Mamata, who parted ways with Congress nearly 15 years ago, showed she was a tough bargainer, virtually telling the ruling party at the Centre that the seat-sharing for the Assembly polls would be on her own terms.

A senior Congress leader, who declined to be identified, said that at first Mamata was not ready to give more than 58 seats in protracted negotiations over seat-sharing for the 294-member Assembly. The talk in Congress circles was that she started the negotiations by offering 45 seats initially.

This was against a demand of 90 put forward by Congress with the PCC Chief Manas Bhuniya telling the AICC in writing that the party should pitch for 98 seats, one third of the Assembly seats.

After Sonia Gandhi's intervention, Mamata gave only one more seat than 64 agreed earlier to Congress. But that seat is supposed to be a Marxist stronghold which is a hard climb for any non-Left party.

This is perhaps for the first time in recent years that Congress had been treated so shabbily by a powerful regional ally which wanted to dominate the entire political space in a state.

Indications to this effect were available at the AICC briefing where the party in-charge of West Bengal Shakeel Ahmed, as also PCC Chief Manas Bhuniya, sidestepped questions whether they were happy over the seat-sharing deal.

Political observers said Mamata had tasted the strength of Congress in municipal elections sometime back as it had put up a poor show.

Trinamool Congress is the second largest constituent of the Congress-led UPA at the Centre. Banerjee is in an upbeat mood since the 2009 Lok Sabha elections where she had led the TMC-Congress alliance in West Bengal to a telling effect by trouncing the Left parties.

Though Banerjee is not contesting the elections, she is being perceived as the next Chief Minister of West Bengal if Trinamool-Congress alliance is voted to power.

In the seat-sharing in Tamil Nadu, Congress extracted 63 seats from DMK despite M Karunanidhi threatening to pull out all party Ministers at the Centre and provide issue-based support to the Congress-led coalition.

Ultimately, Karunanidhi had to bow and Congress managers had projected it as the triumph of the leadership of Sonia Gandhi who made it happen despite odds.
When the seat-sharing talks had begun in West Bengal, Congress leaders had agreed that Mamata is a different cup of tea and the party would not be able to implement the Tamil Nadu 'model' there.

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