Somen Mitra to head Congress in Bengal, replacing Adhir Chowdhury
Kolkata: The Congress on Friday appointed Somen Mitra as President of its West Bengal unit, replacing Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury who was bitterly anti-Trinamool Congress and pro-Left. Chowdhury will be the Chairman of the campaign committee.
Immediately after the announcement, Mitra said he would work to strengthen the party in the state ahead of the 2019 general elections.
"If we fail to strengthen the party's organisation, we will not be able to get people's support. Therefore, my first aim will be to strengthen the party in Bengal. We need collaborative cooperation by party leaders, activists and general people to achieve that goal," he said.
Mitra, who takes over the reins of the state Congress after over two decades, refused to say whether his party would join hands with the state's ruling Trinamool Congress to counter the rising clout of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.
"We cannot take a decision on that. Congress is a national party. So decisions taken by the state units do not have any value. If the party asks us, we will convey our opinion," he said.
"I will talk to co-workers and party leaders and then take the call on this issue."
"Party's central leadership has given me this responsibility. They have shown confidence and belief on me. I have never asked for any post from any level of our party's leadership," he said responding to a query on the possible reasons for which he was handed over responsibility at the age of 75.
Mitra assured he would hold talks with the Congress MLAs who had been opposing Chowdhury's leadership in the state.
Chowdhury had repeatedly claimed that he does not have any political understanding with the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and argued in favour of an alliance with the Left in 2019.
Besides the appointments of Mitra and Chowdhury, Congress President Rahul Gandhi also named Pradip Bhattacharya as the Chairman of the Coordination Committee.
Shankar Malakar, Nepal Mahato and Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury have been named as Working Presidents.
Mitra, affectionately called "Chhorda" (youngest elder brother) by the Congress rank and file, has enjoyed a bitter sweet relations with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. The two became arch-rivals when Banerjee started rising in the party hierarchy by leaving behind veteran leaders in the mid 1980s and the 1990s.
It was after losing to Mitra's organisational might in the state Congress presidential election that Banerjee quit the party and formed the Trinamool in 1997.
Mitra, on the other hand, left the Congress in 2008 to float his own party, Pragatisheel Indira Congress, which he merged with the Trinamool in 2009. He won the Lok Sabha polls on a Trinamool ticket in 2009, but rejoined the Congress in 2014.
There have been reports of infighting within the Bengal Congress for some time, with several state party members writing to the central leadership seeking Chowdhury's removal to revive the Congress in the state.