After muscle flexing, comes the deal: after days of haggling, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) agreed on a seat-sharing arrangement for the 294-member West Bengal Assembly elections. The Congress has settled for 65 seats, down from its original demand for 90, while the TMC gets the lion's share: 229.
The announcement came within hours of Congress president Sonia Gandhi confabulating with Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who conveyed the party's position to TMC chief and Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee over telephone.
Congress Working Committee member in charge of West Bengal Shakeel Ahmed and PCC chief Manas Bhuiyan jointly made the announcement at a press conference here on Monday evening. While Mr. Ahmed looked relieved that the negotiations were over, and expressed the hope that the alliance “would give the people of West Bengal a chance to end the misrule of the Left,” and said “there was no question of a compromise or surrender,” Mr. Bhuiyan, who has been camping in the capital since Saturday, looked distinctly grim.
Asked whether the State unit was happy with the seat-sharing arrangement, Mr. Bhuiyan said: “Ours is a national party, and I am the PCC chief. I have communicated the views, requests and appeals of my colleagues to the highest authority in the party. Whatever decision has been taken by the leadership will be accepted because we want to honour the desire of the people to defeat the Left.”
Press meet advanced
Through several rounds of negotiations, the Congress, which had begun with a demand for 90-plus seats, trimmed it to 70, but was offered only 48. That figure climbed to 62, then to 64 and the final offer was 65. Of course, last Friday the TMC announced it could not wait forever and unilaterally announced it would leave just 64 seats for the Congress, giving that party an ultimatum to accept the offer by Monday. Indeed, with Ms. Banerjee announcing that she would release her party manifesto at 4 p.m. on Monday, the Congress hurriedly convened a press conference at 3.45 p.m. to announce the deal — its official time for daily briefing is 4.15 pm.
But even as the Congress share has been made official, the tricky question of the quality of seats on offer remains: party sources said the problem has arisen partly because Kolkata's 22 seats have shrunk to 11 after delimitation. Similarly, some general seats the Congress held have now become reserved, providing the TMC with the opportunity to pick and choose, it being the senior partner.
For instance, the TMC has claimed Kharagpur Sadar, from where the Congress's Gyan Singh Sohanpal has won nine consecutive times. Similarly, in Kolkata Port and neighbouring South 24 Parganas' Metiabruz, the TMC has fielded candidates though the Congress wanted those seats.
The newly formed constituency of Kolkata Port was part of Congress MLA Ram Pyare Ram's Kabitirtha seat but it has vanished, thanks to delimitation. Similarly, Abdul Khalek Mollah was the Congress MLA from Garden Reach, which has now been merged into Metiabruz. The Congress will now have to deal with unhappy MLAs: Mr. Ram has already threatened to contest as Independent from Kolkata Port “if the Trinamool candidate is not withdrawn” from that constituency. And then there is the Youth Congress list: the State's new Youth Congress chief and MP from Uttar Malda Mausam Noor said here that 30 names had been given to the central election committee, but added that since the party had got only 65 seats, she did not expect that all of them would be accommodated.
Keywords: West Bengal Assembly elections