As Congress prepares for seat sharing talks with Trinamool Congress for West Bengal Assembly polls, a section of PCC leaders today accused WBPCC president Manas Bhuniya of vitiating the atmosphere for talks by going public with a demand for 98 of the 294 seats.

The leaders - PCC spokesperson Sukhendu Sekhar Roy, state INTUC president Pradip Bhattacharya, the new WBPCC general secretary Amitabha Chakraborty and PCC Election Committee member Abdul Mannan - said there should not be any pre-condition before the seat sharing talks begin between the Congress high command and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

“Whether 98 or 198 seats, it should be discussed across the table between the competent representatives of the two parties and not through the media. The way Mr. Bhuniya is going public with his demand for 98 seats will turn things from bad to worse and he should be restrained immediately,” Mr. Roy, considered be close to Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told PTI.

He alleged that Mr. Bhuniya was not only making the Congress workers “hostile” but was also “vitiating the atmosphere for talks” at a time when none of the Trinamool Congress leaders had made any comment to the media so far regarding the number of seats their party wanted to contest.

Countering Mr. Bhuniya’s argument that his demand for 98 seats was based on the 1:2 alliance formula that had worked wonders in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls in the State, Mr. Roy wondered, “If it were so, then why had the leaders then dubbed the 2009 formula as a raw deal for the Congress?”

Seat sharing between the two parties should be based on their respective strengths in West Bengal, he said, adding, “It is no secret that compared to the Congress, the Trinamool Congress is a bigger force in West Bengal in terms of political strength.” Pointing out that a “golden opportunity” to remove the CPI(M)-led government from power has come after several years, PCC general secretary Amitabha Chakraborty said, “Nothing should be done to jeopardise seat sharing between the Congress and Trinamool Congress by raising a bogey of self-respect”.

Alleging that Mr. Bhuniya maintained a close rapport with the CPI(M), PCC Election Committee member Abdul Mannan said the PCC chief was trying to strengthen the hands of the CPI(M) by ensuring that those belonging to the “anti-Bhuinya group” were left out of the list of the 98 constituencies submitting to the Congress High Command.

Citing an example, Mr. Mannan, who was elected to the Assembly from the Champdani seat in Hooghly district from 1982-87 and again from 1991-2006, said the list submitted by Mr. Bhuinya did not include Champdani to “deprive” him from contesting the elections.

Mr. Bhuniya, who was not available for comments, had earlier told reporters that he had given his proposals in writing to the party high command.

“I also spoke to senior party leaders K Keshava Rao, Ahmed Patel and Shakeel Ahmad. I believe our proposal is the most rational,” Mr. Bhuniya had said.

Meanwhile, PCC general secretary Krishna Debnath said that a delegation, led by Mr. Bhuinya, was leaving for Delhi to meet the party high command over the seat sharing issue.

Besides Mr. Bhuniya, the delegation would include 24 district presidents, 12 general secretaries and six vice-presidents who have jointly raised the demand for 98 seats based on the 1:2 alliance formula, Ms. Debnath said.

“We have an appointment with Mr. Pranab Mukherjee on March 8. We are also trying to get appointments with Ms. Sonia Gandhi and Mr. Ahmed Patel,” she said.