Cong hopeful of resolving differences with TMC

New Delhi: Congress on Sunday expressed the hope of resolving differences on seat-sharing with the Trinamool Congress for the West Bengal Assembly polls, saying it was optimistic of forming a "strong alliance" with its UPA partner.

The first round of formal talks between the two parties began with Union Ministers Sultan Ahmed and Mukul Roy from Mamta Banerjee`s party meeting Congress Working Committee in-charge for the state Shakeel Ahmed here.

Congress screening committee in-charge for the state Janardan Pujari and WBPCC President Manas Bhunia was also present in the meeting.

After two-hour long meeting, Ahmed, though remained evasive on the number being sought by each party, said that the alliance was strong.

"Trinamool Congress is a very strong alliance partner of UPA. Our alliance is there and we do hope our alliance will continue. We are very hopeful we will form an alliance and we will defeat the Left Front government in West Bengal," Ahmed told reporters.

The talks began after a two-day lull on the issue prompting the Congress high command to get in touch with Mamata Banerjee yesterday, sources said.

There were some irritants in the alliance talks initially with Congress demanding over 100 seats and Banerjee`s party offering only 45.

However, the differences have narrowed down with Congress now insisting on 75 while Trinamool is in a mood to give nearly 60 seats, sources said.

Asked about the number of seats to be shared by each party, Ahmed said that seat sharing is not done through media.

"There is nothing wrong in political parties seeking larger number of seats for themselves. It is so natural in an alliance. Every party wants the best deal for it."

Sources said that the issue is not only the number of seats but also the winnability factor. Congress is of the view that both parties should get the seats they won in the last elections as well the seats in which they came second.

Rest of the seats won by Left Front should be shared on 1/3 formulae as per the seat sharing agreement in the last Lok Sabha election, a party leader said on the condition of anonymity.

West Bengal Assembly elections will be held in six phases starting April 18. Congress has six MPs and 19 MLAs in the state while Trinamool Congress has 19 MPs and 30 MLAs from the state.