Didi asks UPA to play on her pitch or declare

Trinamool chief shows Congress the door in her most direct attack yet, a day after Manmohan says 'all is well'

When the already hapless UPA II government has Mamata Banerjee as a "partner", it doesn't really need the opposition to humiliate it. In a copy book case of domestic abuse, Banerjee on Saturday threw an open challenge to the Congress to walk out of their alliance.

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After the ties between the ally and the government worsened in recent months over the Lokpal bill and other issues, Banerjee for the first time spoke bitterly and openly against the Congress.  "If Congress feels they can go with (the Communist Party of India-Marxist) CPI-M, they are free to. The door is open. We can do it (run the state government) alone," she said.

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

Meanwhile, the Congress in Delhi downplayed the challenge saying disagreements were part of coalition politics. "In a coalition arrangement, disagreements occur and are valued. These issues would be sorted out," Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told reporters.

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

The Trinamool, the second largest constituent of the UPA with 19 MPs in the Lok Sabha and six in the Rajya Sabha, was also mainly responsible for the central government's backtracking on the foreign direct investment (FDI) plan in the retail sector.

"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 an all round opposition.

Banerjee 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 Congress support. "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," she warned. The Congress on the other hand is hugely dependent on the Trinamool for the survival of the UPA at the Centre.

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

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

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

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