"Even With Binoculars...": Trinamool Sources On Congress' 5-Seat Demand

The Congress has also stepped up talks in Maharashtra, with Rahul Gandhi speaking directly to Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray to resolve a deadlock over eight seats, including two in Mumbai.

'Even With Binoculars...': Trinamool Sources On Congress' 5-Seat Demand

Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Congress MP Rahul Gandhi (File).

New Delhi:

The Congress' renewed attempt at sealing a seat-share deal with the Trinamool may not end well, with sources telling NDTV Friday morning that Bengal's ruling party is unlikely to budge from its initial offer.

Sources said the Congress had reduced its ask to five Lok Sabha seats.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, appears unmoved from her earlier position; she had said she would only give two to a party that won just that many in the 2019 election and zero in the 2021 state poll. 

And that seems to be her position still. "Even with binoculars we are unable to find a third seat for the Congress", a Trinamool spokesperson, told NDTV. 

Later in the day Trinamool leader Derek O'Brien underlined that divide, saying, "A few weeks ago... Mamata Banerjee said the Trinamool is fighting all 42 seats... There is no change in this position." 

Sources had said the Congress wants to contest three seats held by the BJP, including one in north Bengal. This is in addition to the ones offered - Berhampore and Malda (South) - which it won last time.

The Congress wants Darjeeling, Malda (North), and Raiganj, all held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party. Purulia - also held by the BJP - is also in the mix but is the least likely to be surrendered.

READ | Congress-Trinamool Seat Talks Back After Mamata's Snub: Sources

The Congress - boosted by a rush of agreements with the Samajwadi Party and the Aam Aadmi Party  - reached out Thursday evening, hoping for a rapprochement after Ms Banerjee, angered by what she felt were unrealistic demands, cut ties last month and put her INDIA membership on hold. 

"... in Bengal only Trinamool can teach BJP a lesson..." she had declared, and followed that with a sharp put-down of her ally. "I told Congress... 'You don't have a single MLA here, I am offering two MP seats and we will ensure you win those.' They said... 'No'. So I said, 'Now I won't give a single seat'."

The Congress, meanwhile, has also stepped up talks in Maharashtra, with Rahul Gandhi speaking directly to Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray to resolve a deadlock over eight seats.

READ | Rahul Gandhi's Phone Call With Uddhav Thackeray Amid Seats Row

The party is hoping to capitalise on a rush of positivity after closing deals with Akhilesh Yadav's SP - for 17 seats in Uttar Pradesh - and Arvind Kejriwal's AAP - for three seats in Delhi and more.

READ | After Delhi, AAP-Congress Seal Seat Deal For Goa, Haryana, Gujarat: Sources

Seat-sharing has been one of the bloc's pain points, with many of the Congress allies forcing the party to deal on their terms, particularly in light of its recent dismal electoral record. That disadvantage was reportedly highlighted by former party boss Sonia Gandhi during talks with the Samajwadi Party.

Sources said Ms Gandhi spoke to the Congress' UP leaders and told their demands were "unrealistic", and that they should prioritise a functional alliance and a stronger chance of winning the election.

READ | To Solve UP Seat-Sharing Deadlock, Sonia, Priyanka Gandhi Stepped In

Set up in June, the bloc has already lost Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) - a founding member - and Jayant Chaudhary's Rashtra Lok Dal, which has influence among the Jat community in western UP. Both the JDU and the RLD have aligned with the BJP.

With just weeks for the election, the Congress is near the point of no return for seat-share deals, which is another reason why it seems the party is agreeing to secondary status in state-level alliances.

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