Even as the Left Front maintains that the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are working towards a covert understanding at the ground level for the coming civic polls in West Bengal, the apparent break-up in their alliance notwithstanding, the leadership of both parties has cautioned against persisting with the blame game. For, after all, the more crucial battle is the Assembly election next year.

If the Left Front's claim is true, the covert Congress-Trinamool understanding will largely be for the elections in municipalities in districts. In the Kolkata Municipal Corporation — the focal point of the gridlock that resulted in the collapse of the electoral pact between the two parties — the situation is somewhat different.

Here, their nominees are pitted against each other, not to speak of the candidates of the Left parties, in most of the 141 wards that go to the polls on May 30.

The outcome of the elections could well determine the bargaining positions of the Congress and the Trinamool on seat sharing when it comes to putting up a joint fight in the 2011 Assembly polls.

The two parties, partners in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre and which share in West Bengal the central agenda of ousting the Left Front from power, forged an alliance, in the first place, with an eye on the 2011 polls.

A section of the State Congress leadership, which resented the Trinamool giving the party a raw deal in seat adjustments in the past, particularly in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, has reason to be disgruntled.

This time round the Congress has not capitulated, at least not on paper.

How the adversarial role it has opted for will affect the party's prospects in the civic polls is one thing; and it is quite another whether there will be any room left for manoeuvrability when the Congress goes in a for a combined anti-Left Front fight with the Trinamool on its side in the Assembly polls. The Congress is on a sticky wicket, to say the least.

Reprehensible though the party might find the obduracy of the Trinamool which, according to it, precipitated the collapse of the electoral alliance, the Congress leadership in the State is only too well aware that the high command would not like to upset the apple cart when it comes to dealing with the partner in the UPA government.

Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee, who rarely minces words, has expressed her disappointment with the Congress, not just for the alliance for the civic polls falling through. She has not been taken as seriously as she might have liked on various issues — whether it be her opposition to the Centre's decision to carry out anti-Maoist security operations in the State or its refusal to go as far as she would have wanted it to (read President's Rule) on the ground of total breakdown of law and order, an allegation she has made repeatedly.

Yet, the Congress has shown exemplary restraint in the face of the ire Ms. Banerjee directed at it in recent times.

She has reminded the Congress that the government at the Centre is not that of a single party but of an alliance which she will not like to disturb provided her party is given due respect. Is there a veiled threat one perceives somewhere? Or, is it another way of saying she will have it her way if there is to be an anti-Left electoral alliance for the battle royal next year?