I respect Mamata, but Congress needs respect too: Rahul

"We are in partnership with (Trinamool chief) Mamata Banerjee. We will together fight the Left Front, which is the single biggest problem in West Bengal. We want to continue the alliance with her. But we will not do so, if we are not respected. That is my personal view," Rahul Gandhi said at a press conference here.

Asked what he meant by "respect", Rahul Gandhi shot back: "Are you not a Bengali? I am surprised you don't know what respect is. Bengalis are the first people to know what respect is."

He said his party wanted to hold hands with Banerjee, who is also the railway minister. "She is a senior leader. I respect her. She has worked with my father. She has struggled in Bengal for a very, very long time. However, we are not going to bow our heads."

He, however, dodged a query on the bitterness between the partners over failed seat adjustment talks in the civic polls this year. "I am not going to speak about the near past. I will speak about the future."

Gandhi was on a three-day trip to the state that ended Thursday.

He refused to join issue with Banerjee on her comments that she was not a seasonal bird, which many have interpreted as a broadside on Gandhi's visit to the state to rejuvenate the Congress.

"Do I look like a bird to you?" Gandhi asked, triggering peels of laughter. But he soon added: "I don't think Mamataji was referring to me."

"Either way, fact of the matter is I am here to build the Youth Congress. I don't work for the CPI-M (Communist Party of India-Marxist) or the Trinamool. I work for the Congress and I have been given the task of fixing the Youth Congress and the National Students Union of India," he said.

Gandhi, however, claimed nothing had gone wrong as far as his party's association with the Trinamool was concerned.

"It is not that I am talking of respect only for the last two days. I am talking about it since I joined politics. I have said that in other states like Orissa also."

He, however, described as an "exaggeration" the CPI-M's repeated allegations about Banerjee being hand in glove with the Maoists. "To say Mamataji is openly supporting the Maoists is an exaggeration."

He also described as "unfair" suggestions that Banerjee was opposing every single policy of the United Progressive Alliance government in New Delhi in which the Trinamool is the second largest partner.

"She has been opposing some... a few of them. She has the right to an opinion. We are a large party and we are sensitive to opinions. In our party also there are a lot of opinions. We have no problem with any difference of opinion. We have a problem with disrespect," he added.

The Congress and the Trinamool had joined hands before last year's Lok Sabha polls and decimated the Left Front that has ruled the state since 1977.

But problems cropped up between the two partners later and they went their separate ways in the civic polls this year.

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