INDIA Unity Takes A Hit From Bengal. Hours Later, Another From Punjab

Bhagwant Mann's remarks came hours after Mamata Banerjee's explosive announcement that there is no tie-up with the Congress in Bengal


The unity of INDIA opposition bloc has suffered back-to-back setbacks within hours, with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) declaring that it will contest all Lok Sabha seats in Punjab, shortly after Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee ruled out any alliance with Congress in West Bengal.

"The Aam Aadmi Party has shortlisted 40 candidates for the 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab. We are getting a survey done before finalising candidates," Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said today.

The remarks came hours after Ms Banerjee's explosive announcement that there is no tie-up with the Congress in Bengal and any decision on an alliance at the national level will be taken after the election. "I had no discussions with the Congress. I have always said that in Bengal, we will fight alone. I gave them (Congress) many proposals... but they rejected them. I am not concerned about what will be done in the (rest of the) country... but we are a secular party and, in Bengal, we alone will defeat BJP, she said."

The Congress is yet to respond to Mr Mann's announcement. 

Responding to Ms Banerjee's outburst, senior Congress leader KC Venugopal said there will be a Congress-Trinamool alliance in Bengal. "There will be an alliance in West Bengal. Our aim is to decrease BJP seats. We Will talk to TMC. Mamata Banerjee is a senior leader in INDIA alliance. These are small differences, will be sort them out." 

The decision by Trinamool and AAP to go solo in their strongholds needs to be seen against the backdrop of a persistent tussle between the Congress and regional forces within the INDIA bloc.

While regional parties, specifically Trinamool, AAP and Samajwadi Party, have repeatedly demanded the leading role in their bastions, the Congress, determined to play the big brother role, has pushed for a bigger pie during seat-sharing talks at the state level.

In both Bengal and Punjab, attacks and counter-attacks between the Congress and the ruling party have continued unabated over the past few months, despite claims of unity at INDIA meetings. Both state Congress units - led by Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury in Bengal and Amarinder Raja Singh Warring in Punjab - have been opposed to an alliance at the state level and lost no opportunity in hitting out at the state governments.

The regional parties, on their part, are in no mood to cede ground in their strongholds, especially in the wake of Congress setbacks in the recent Assembly polls.

Even earlier this month, Mr Warring had told the media that he was yet to receive any message from the Congress high command on an alliance with AAP in Punjab. He had said that the state Congress unit was preparing to contest all 13 Lok Sabha seats in Punjab.

In fact, AAP's ties with the Congress have been fragile at best ever since Opposition parties came together under the INDIA bloc. The Patna meeting of the INDIA bloc in June last year had turned into a Congress vs AAP blame game. The AAP then wanted the Congress to back its fight against the Centre's push to control Delhi officers. The grand old party had then not yet cleared its stand on the Bill, which later cleared the Parliament.

Digging in its heels, AAP had then said it would not be a part of INDIA unless Congress cleared the air. This had prompted a sharp response from the Congress, which blamed AAP's "either-or" approach. While the Congress had later backed AAP on the issue, but the episode had bared the faultlines within the Opposition's alliance.

Another point of contention that may have led to the impasse over seat-sharing is the fact that AAP is keen on an alliance on a pan-India level and the Congress is in no mood to accept this.