Cong looking to woo Mamata for Prez poll support?

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Mamata-Manmohan Singh
Bangalore: The talks between West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra and Union Finance Minister Amit Mitra in new Delhi on Monday on special package for a debt-ridden Bengal remained inconclusive. Mitra spoke to Mukherjee and other officials of the Finance Ministry during the meeting which continued for nearly two-hours but yet no final outcome materialised. Mitra, however, told reporters after the meeting that the meeting was positive but there was need for further talks as well. He said he would talk to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on the matter after returning to Kolkata.

Meanwhile, the chief minister said in Kolkata that the meeting was a routine affair and she was yet to know the details of the meeting. "Every time you are raising the point, we are coming with empty hands," Banerjee replied to a reporter's question at the state secretariat.

The West Bengal government has been demanding a special package to bail the state out of its financial woes and Banerjee has also sought a three-year interest moratorium. She took up the matter time and again with the Centre, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, yet nothing has materialised so far. West Bengal has a debt of Rs 2 lakh crore and its current annual interest payment is around Rs 22,000 crore.

Mukherjee had said in Rajya Sabha last month that West Bengal would have received the package if only it had passed the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) law in 2005, as the 12th Finance Commission had suggested. But it passed the Act only last year. According to a Comptroller and Auditor report, the state failed to avail a central relief amount of nearly Rs 3,158 crore between 2005 and 2010 due to the delayed enactment.

The package issue, it seems, is gaining significance in other ways. The Congress, it is learnt, is trying to woo Mamata ahead of fixing its candidate for the presidential election. The Trinamool Congress chief had earlier refused to back Mukherjee as a probable presidential; candidate of the UPA.

The Manmohan Singh government is trying to provide the much sought-after financial package to West Bengal to buy Mamata's crucial support for its candidate (officially not declared yet) and build up a consensus in the UPA. The Union Finance Minister, it is learnt, returned to the capital earlier than scheduled and took up the matter with officials of the Finance Ministry. Efforts are on to make some way to meet Mamata's demand so that she reciprocates during the election to the Raisina Hills.

The Trinamool camp, said inside sources, is keeping its fingers crossed. According to the party insiders, they would not feel convinced till the Centre really grants a package to the state. "We are not even convinced with any strong assurance," said a party source.

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