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Will fight LS polls 'alone' in WB, says Mamata Banerjee; Cong says 'can't imagine INDIA bloc without Mamata'

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Kolkata/Barpeta (Assam), Jan 24 (PTI) In a major setback to the INDIA bloc, West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced that her party will fight Lok Sabha polls "alone" in the state, a remark that rattled the grand old party and triggered reactions from leaders of the opposition front.  Banerjee's sudden comments, a day before Congress leader Rahul Gandhi-led 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra' is to enter West Bengal, forced the Congress to adopt a conciliatory approach with party spokesperson Jairam Ramesh asserting that the opposition bloc INDIA "cannot be imagined without Mamata Banerjee".

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Talking to reporters in Kolkata, Banerjee said,"I had given them (Congress) a proposal (on seat-sharing), but they refused it at the outset. Our party has now decided to go alone in Bengal...Now, we have decided that there will be no relations with the Congress in Bengal," Banerjee said amid the tussle between the two parties over the seat-sharing for the Lok Sabha polls in the state.  The TMC chief also dismissed reports of any talks with the Congress over the seat-sharing, saying she has not spoken to anyone in the grand old party on the issue.  "Let the Congress fight 300 seats on its own (in the country). The regional parties are together and can contest the rest. However, we will not tolerate any interference by them (Congress) in Bengal," she asserted.

At the national level, the party, as a part of the INDIA bloc, will decide its strategy after the elections, Banerjee added.

Reacting to Banerjee’s statement, Ramesh at a press conference at North Salmara in Assam said, "No one can imagine the existence of the opposition INDIA bloc without West Bengal Chief Minister and TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee. The Trinamool Congress is an important pillar of the opposition alliance." "At times, some small differences crop up. Some speed breakers come during a long journey but we will find a way through discussions. She (Banerjee) has said she will defeat the BJP and with this thought, we (Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra) are entering West Bengal tomorrow," the Congress leader said.  "The INDIA bloc will fight the Lok Sabha polls in West Bengal and all (partners) will participate," Ramesh said.

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According to sources, the TMC's offer of two seats to the grand old party based on its 2019 Lok Sabha election performance, triggered tension among the leaders, as the arrangement was deemed insufficient.

The CPI(M)-led Left Front, Congress, and the TMC are part of the 28-party INDIA bloc.

Banerjee had made a similar remark during a recent rally in Kolkata, where she batted for the idea of regional leaders spearheading the fight against the BJP in specific regions.

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Expressing her commitment to the opposition alliance, Banerjee said, "At the national level, we, as a part of the INDIA bloc, will decide our strategy after the elections. All the regional parties will stay united and the opposition front doesn't belong to any single party. We will do whatever it takes to defeat the BJP." On the 'Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra', which is scheduled to enter West Bengal on Thursday, she said the Congress did not inform her about the Yatra's itinerary in the state.

"As a gesture of courtesy, did they (Congress) let me know that they are coming to Bengal for the Yatra? I am not aware of it," she said.

  The Yatra, currently in Assam, is set to enter West Bengal through Bakshirhat in Cooch Behar district on January 25. After a two-day recess on January 26-27, it will pass through Jalpaiguri, Alipurduar, Uttar Dinajpur and Darjeeling before reaching Bihar on January 29.| It will re-enter West Bengal on January 31 through Malda and travel via Murshidabad, both strongholds of the Congress, before leaving the state on February 1.

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Banerjee's comments also came in the backdrop of State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury taking on the TMC and Banerjee over the seat-sharing arrangement.

A vocal TMC critic,  Chowdhury has maintained that the Congress will not "beg" for seats from Bengal’s ruling party.

In the 2019 elections,  the TMC secured 22 seats, Congress won two, and the BJP bagged 18 seats in the state.

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The Trinamool Congress had recently abstained from a recent INDIA bloc virtual meeting and emphasised the necessity for the Congress to recognise its limitations in Bengal, and permit the TMC to spearhead the state's political battle.

TMC had previously allied with the Congress in the 2001 assembly polls, the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, and the 2011 assembly polls, leading to the ousting of the CPI (M)-led Left Front government of 34 years.  While the NCP (Sharad Pawar faction) said Banerjee's announcement could be part of a "strategy" and maintained that the INDIA bloc stands united against the BJP, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray was of the view that Banerjee was "fighting like a tigress", and her fight was important for her state.

Meanwhile, the state BJP chief took a dig at the opposition bloc, saying it lacked any ideological conviction and was built on an anti-Modi platform.  "Did this alliance have any ideological conviction? It was all about just opposing the Prime Minister and the BJP to protect their own political identities," BJP state president Sukanta Majumdar said. PTI SCH PNT TR RBT BDC PYK PYK

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