Ahead of meet with Rahul, WB Cong torn between opposing views

Kolkata, July 5  Ahead of its crucial meeting with party president Rahul Gandhi tomorrow, the Congress in West Bengal seems to be torn between two sections of leaders - one that is keen on a tie-up with the TMC and the other with the CPI(M). The task seems to be cut out for the Congress chief as party leaders in the state unit continue to remain divided over the choice of an alliance partner in their fight against the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Officially the July 6 meeting has been called to discuss organisational matters, but the issues of "poaching of Congress MLAs by the Trinamool Congress (TMC)" and formation of alliance, either with the TMC or the CPI(M), are likely to come up for deliberations, a senior state Congress leader said on the condition of anonymity. A report prepared by state general secretary Om Prakash Mishra, on behalf of the West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee (WBPCC), and sent to the central leadership has recommended joining hands with the CPI(M) for the parliamentary election. However, a section of party MPs and MLAs feels aligning with the TMC would be the best way to win the maximum number of seats in 2019. Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury, Congress MP from Malda South and the brother of former Congress stalwart ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury, along with MLA Maniul Haque, had met TMC secretary-general Partha Chatterjee at his residence on June 28, the day BJP president Amit Shah held a rally in Purulia. Khan Chowdhury had said he held talks with Chatterjee on the possibilities of forming a grand alliance in the state. State president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury and other leaders of the party, however, feel aligning with the TMC in Bengal will amount to "committing suicide" for the Congress in the state. Mishra, who was one of the main propagators of the Congress-Left Front tie-up in 2016 Assembly polls, has proposed a 21-step approach in his report to defeat the "TMC-BJP nexus", in partnership with the CPI(M)-led Left Front. "While preparing the report I spoke to all secular and Left parties of the state. I have cited reasons to show that the TMC paved way for the BJP in Bengal by weakening the Congress and the Left. The report has been sent to Rahul Gandhi, Gaurav Gogoi (AICC in-charge of West Bengal) and Adhir Chowdhury (state Congress president)," Mishra told PTI. Mishra said the report mainly focuses on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, but it also provides a long-term plan for 2021 assembly elections. "We should not forget that although the Congress and Left Front alliance failed to come to power in 2016, it bagged nearly 39 per cent votes" he said. The 21-point report by Mishra has also proposed a political front, which will coordinate and decide detailed plans, programmes and activities, including setting up of "central office point" in various parts of the state. The Congress and Left political parties should involve all non-TMC and non-BJP political parties, organisations, trade unions, civil society bodies and prominent citizens from various walks of life, Mishra said in his report. A dedicated website, FB Page and Twitter handle of the political front has to be maintained by the members and joint agitation and other political programmes need to be organised from time to time, he suggested in the report. The state general secretary also stressed the importance of creating a strong base for the "political front" across the state by October 2018, with at least 50,000 volunteers, and sought deliberations among non-BJP, non-TMC political parties to finalise the list of Lok Sabha candidates by January 2019. A senior Congress leader said aligning with the TMC would not be beneficial for the Congress politically. State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the party had suffered badly in the past for forging an alliance with the TMC in Bengal. "If you see the statistics, when we had an alliance with the TMC, the party had to make heavy sacrifices. And in return, the TMC tried to weaken our party organization, be it by poaching our elected representatives or by letting loose a reign of terror on us," he told PTI. Senior Congress MP from Bengal, Pradip Bhattacharya, agreed that there are divergent views over the issue of coalition formation and it was for the party high command to take a final call on the matter. A senior Congress leader from the central leadership, who is privy to the developments, said the party is in the process of gathering "divergent views" from its Bengal leaders so that it can take an appropriate decision. A senior CPI(M) leader said the people of Bengal are looking for an alternative to "bipolar politics" that the TMC and BJP are engaged in. Over the past two years, the Congress has lost nearly 11 of its MLAs to the TMC. Barring Manas Bhunia, who resigned as Congress MLA when he was elected as Rajya Sabha MP from TMC, the defectors didn't resign as legislators after joining the ruling party. Four other Congress MLAs, who are currently holding talks with the TMC, are likely to follow suit on July 21, during the mega rally of the ruling party. In the 2014 general elections, the TMC had bagged 34 out of 42 seats in West Bengal. The Congress had secured four seats, while the CPI(M) and the BJP won two seats each.
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