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Somen back, so are doubts

Calcutta, Jan. 15: Somen Mitra today resigned as Trinamul Lok Sabha MP to rejoin the Congress, where he had cut his teeth as a student leader and risen up the ranks to become the party’s state unit president, amid doubts about the impact of his homecoming.

At 70 and after his five-year stint in Trinamul, during which he was hardly involved in any political activity, the former firebrand leader could find it difficult to counter the ruling party, which has gained in strength in successive elections since the 2008 panchayat polls.

“Somenda’s return is good for us. But the question is whether he can lead the fight against Trinamul,” a state Congress leader said, admitting that the party’s support base had “eroded massively” in the past few years.

Congress leaders have switched to Trinamul in hordes after Mamata Banerjee snapped ties with the Congress in September 2012. In the past few months, Trinamul has taken over nearly a dozen civic bodies from the Congress, riding on defections.

The state Congress leadership dubbed Mitra’s return a “positive development”.

“Somen’s resignation will at least help us send the message to demoralised party workers that the Congress has not lost its relevance in the state. His return will not only boost their sagging morale but also rejuvenate the entire organisation,” state Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya said.

Mitra, who was a Mamata baiter during his tenure as state Congress chief for six years from 1992, had joined Trinamul in 2008, just before the Lok Sabha polls. He contested the Diamond Harbour seat and trumped the CPM’s Shamik Lahiri by over 1.5 lakh votes.

Although Mitra’s switch was seen as a major coup by Mamata, he was never accepted in Trinamul’s inner circle. While Mitra was a regular in Parliament, he was hardly seen at party meetings.

“Somenda’s resignation was just a matter of time as he had been sulking for the past few years and was trying to embarrass the party,” a Trinamul source said.

Mitra invited Mamata’s ire when he wrote to the Prime Minister in July 2012, highlighting how illegal deposit-mobilising companies were duping people in Bengal with tacit support from the ruling establishment. The letter was written much before Saradha went bust in April last year.

In early 2012, he wrote another letter to the Union shipping ministry demanding a probe into alleged irregularities at Haldia port at a time Trinamul Rajya Sabha MP Mukul Roy was the junior minister in the department.

Roy, the Trinamul all-India general secretary, did not attach any importance to Mitra’s resignation. “Trinamul has become so big that such exits don’t matter to us,” he said.

Mitra said he was “ready to contest” the Lok Sabha polls if the Congress leadership wanted him to.

Criticising the way Trinamul was run, he said: “Dictatorship reigns supreme in Trinamul these days. Nobody has the freedom to express his views. It reminds me of Hitler.”

Mitra’s move to quit just three months before the Lok Sabha elections to avoid a bypoll in his parliamentary constituency has not gone down well with a section of the electorate in Diamond Harbour.

“We could have got another Trinamul leader as our MP had Somenda resigned at least six months ago. Somenda has done little for the area,” said Samser Ali Mollah of Falta, a Trinamul supporter.