"West Bengal government failed to utilise Central funds"

Reaffirming her faith in the electoral alliance with the Trinamool Congress, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said here on Wednesday that the two parties were committed to liberating the State from the “misrule of the Left Front government.”

“The Trinamool Congress and Mamata Banerjee are a part of every programme implemented by the United Progressive Alliance government for the benefit of the country and the people,” Ms. Gandhi said.

“The Congress and Trinamool Congress have together vowed to liberate West Bengal from the misrule of the Left Front government,” she said as she solicited votes for both the candidates of both parties.

The sentiment was echoed by Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee who said, “a call for a change has been sounded, but as a singular entity we [the Congress] could not herald this change, so we have formed an alliance with the Trinamool Congress.”

However, after considerable uncertainty over the alliance during bitter negotiations over seat-sharing, the absence of a joint-campaign by leaders of the two parties is conspicuous.

Even though the elections have commenced and the campaigning for the second phase nearly drawing to a close, Ms. Banerjee has not attended a single rally of the Congress. The Congress has a greater stake during the first two phases which will decide the fate of 46 of its 67 candidates in the electoral fray.

Ms. Gandhi and Mr. Mukherjee were speaking at an election rally at Nalhati, where his son, Abhijit Mukherjee, is contesting the Assembly elections on the Congress ticket. The younger Mr. Mukherjee faces a tough challenge as the constituency in Birbhum district is a stronghold of the Left, with the All India Forward Bloc having retained it since 1967.

The district, along with Murshidabad and Nadia districts, goes to the polls during the second phase on April 23. Ms. Gandhi later addressed two other rallies in Murshidabad and Nadia.

From the early hours of the morning, large crowds had gathered at the venue. Every rooftop and convenient perch was packed with people. Ms. Gandhi, flanked by Congress leaders and security personnel, stepped off the stage and walked onto the rally grounds waving out to them.

In her address, Ms. Gandhi directed her attack on the ruling Left Front government, claiming that it was “wholly responsible for the sorry state of affairs here.”

She reiterated that the Centre allocated sufficient funds to West Bengal but the Left Front failed to utilise them and there was no visible impact. She raised the issues of unemployment, poor law and order and the problems faced by farmers and jute mill workers.

While price rise has been a key issue in the Left's campaign, Ms. Gandhi countered it by claiming that “the Centre has taken stringent measures on price rise, but the Left Front government here has not been able to check hoarders and black-marketers.”

Ms. Gandhi also spoke on the issue of Maoists, emphasising that “Naxalism is a grave threat to the country's internal security,” and said the Centre was helping the affected States to cope with the problem in every way possible.