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Freezing ties: Mamata challenges Congress to walk out

Saturday January 07, 2012 08:59:02 PM, IANS

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Kolkata/New Delhi: In an indication that all is not well within the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA), West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee Saturday threw an open challenge to partner Congress to walk out of the combine.

This is the first time Banerjee has spoken so bitterly and openly against the Congress after the ties between the two parties -- allies in the central and state governments -- worsened in recent months over various issues.

"If Congress feels they can go with (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) CPI-M, they can do it. The door is open. We can do (run the state government) it alone," Banerjee said in West Bengal.

The fiery comments came a day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday said problems with Congress allies were "temporary" and would be overcome with "will" and "determination".

The Congress in New Delhi downplayed the Mamata challenge saying disagreements were part of coalition politics.

"In a coalition arrangement, disagreements do occur. Disagreements are valued in a coalition. These issues would be sorted out," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters in the capital.

Banerjee, however, minced no words in lashing out at the Congress accusing it of spreading canards against her party because she opposed the central government's key policy decisions and blocked crucial bills, including the anti-corruption Lokpal legislation in parliament.

The Trinamool, the second largest constituent of the UPA with 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha and six in the Rajya Sabha, is also mainly responsible for the central government's backtracking on the foreign direct investment (FDI) plan in retail sector after Banerjee raised a red flag against the key reform measure.

"The Congress by colluding with the Marxists is taking out protest against the state government (because) the Trinamool did not agree with the decision of FDI in retail, the Lokayukta provision in Lokpal bill and oil price hike," an angry Banerjee said.

She lashed out at the Congress for not putting the anti-graft legislation to vote in the Rajya Sabha, which could have been defeated in the wake of all round opposition.

Banerjee also reminded the Congress of her party's importance in the UPA saying the Trinamool had the majority to run the state government and didn't need the Congress support.

However, the Congress right now is hugely dependent on the Trinamool for the survival of the UPA at the centre.

"The Trinamool on their own strength has fought the Left in the West Bengal and has come to power. I can still go alone and fight alone. Nobody can win by conspiring against us," said Banerjee.

She said the Congress was afraid of the Trinamool after her decision to fight in elections in Uttar Pradesh and Manipur. "That is why they are so much worried. Nobody can undermine us by carrying on with such dirty political games."

Asked about the Trinamool chief's remarks that the Congress was scared of her party, Singhvi at the Delhi presser said: "There is no question of the 125-year-old all-India party being scared of anyone or any political challenge."

After Banerjee's outburst, the West Bengal state Congress retorted that they were not bound to follow her orders and would continue in the ministry.

State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharjee said: "We will stay in the ministry, we are not going to leave it. We are there because of the blessings of the common man. We are not bound to follow her orders and fulfil her wishes as we are not her subjects."

"Congress is not afraid of anybody. It doesn't make any sense that we will leave the ministry if she wants," said Bhattacharjee.

The escalating war between the coalition partners that has threatened the UPA was triggered after the West Bengal government's proposal to rename a building named after late prime minister Indira Gandhi. The Congress has vehemently opposed the idea to rename the Kolkata-based Indira Bhavan - where Gandhi stayed in 1972 - after revolutionary poet Kazi Nazrul Islam.

The BJP, meanwhile, said the doors were open for Banerjee to join the National Democratic Alliance. "The UPA 2 has been very arrogant. The fact is that the Congress can neither have a healthy relationship with the opposition nor with allies," BJP leader Balbir Punj told reporters, adding "NDA doors were open" for anybody.







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