58 or 98? Congress now tackles Mamata

Having survived a minor scare to reach a tie-up with the DMK, the Congress next faces an equally tough bargainer in the Trinamool. While the Congress wants not less than 70 seats, the Mamata Banerjee-led party is said to be disinclined to give more than 58.

"Rahul Gandhiji and also our state leadership have all talked about an honourable assembly poll deal for the party in West Bengal. Anything less than 70 to 75 seats will not be

honourable," a senior Congress functionary told The Indian Express.

At a meeting with the new AICC in-charge of West Bengal Shakeel Ahmed here today, a number of district presidents of the West Bengal Congress argued that the party should go it alone if the Trinamool doesn't agree to its demands. The state Congress leaders, in fact, want the party to fight at least one-third of the 294 Assembly seats, or 98.

Similar sentiments were expressed by state leaders when they met Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee later in the evening. Mukherjee, who had met Mamata on Monday evening, asked Ahmed to formulate the party's strategy in consultation with state leaders.

The Congress hopes to contest enough number of seats to be in a position to be part of the government if the alliance wins. Although Mamata met Mukherjee while some other Trinamool leaders called on senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel on Monday, sources said the Trinamool has not made any formal offer of seats yet.

"If you go by the results of the last panchayat elections, we deserve 120 seats. But we are staking claim to only 98. More than the quantity of seats, it is their quality that matters to us," Congress MP Deepa Dasmunshi said.

The Trinamool has authorised Mukul Roy and Sudip Bandopadhyay to hold talks with the Congress. Incidentally, Roy is among the section in the party that reportedly believes the Trinamool should go it alone.

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