Calcutta, Feb. 10: Adhir Chowdhury, one of the few state Congress leaders who has withstood the onslaughts of the Left as well as the Trinamul Congress, has been appointed Bengal president of the party.
The junior railway minister has replaced Pradip Bhattacharya in a move aimed at lifting the sagging morale of the state Congress in the run-up to the general election.
An immediate question that arose was whether the appointment of Adhir, a known Mamata-baiter, buries the possibility of an alliance or understanding between the Congress and Trinamul for the general elections.
But sources suggested that although Mamata and Adhir cannot see eye to eye, hard-nosed political considerations, not personality-related whims, were expected to drive such decisions.
An understanding may or may not take place to prevent the division of the anti-Left vote, especially with the BJP emerging as an active player this time, but the selection of Adhir to head the local Congress will not be a decisive factor, the sources said.
The high command made the announcement on Adhir in Delhi today. Outgoing president Bhattacharya had held a meeting with AICC general secretary C.P. Joshi, who oversees Bengal affairs, last night, a source said.
Congress leaders also projected Adhir’s choice as a reflection of Rahul Gandhi’s willingness to fight for every inch despite the gloomy predictions for the party in 2014.
“The high command has devolved a great responsibility on me with the Lok Sabha elections round the corner. But I am yet to decide on the next course of action,” Adhir told The Telegraph over phone from Delhi.
The 58-year-old Murshidabad strongman, who has been retaining the Behrampore Lok Sabha seat since 1999, said he would “fight to the end” to ensure the victory of party candidates in all the 42 seats in the state.
“Although time is running out, I shall fight to the end to ensure that all our 42 nominees win the polls. For this, I shall embark upon a district-wise tour of Bengal to drum up support by reaching out to the people,” he added.
Asked about his priority, Adhir said he would reach Calcutta within two to three days to hold a meeting with state Congress leaders to assess matters prevailing in the organisation.
State Congress leaders hailed Adhir’s appointment as PCC chief and said his “fighter’s image” would help him confront the “atrocities” of the ruling Trinamul”.
“We need a party chief like Adhir Chowdhury at this juncture when party people are being regularly subjected to Trinamul’s atrocities everywhere across Bengal,” said former state Congress chief and MLA Manas Bhuniya.
The junior railway minister, who cut his teeth in the trade union movement of the Left in the late 1980s, joined the Congress in 1991 when he was given a ticket for the Nabagram Assembly seat in his home district of Murshidabad.
Although the Congress veteran was unsuccessful in his maiden attempt at the hustings, he won the same seat in 1996 in absentia because he was on the run after an arrest warrant was issued against him in connection with a “fabricated murder case”.
“I won the Nabagram seat in absentia because I was on the run for five years. That indeed marked a turning point in my career because since then, there has been no looking back for me,” Adhir recalled.
Party workers in Murshidabad, buoyed by Adhir’s new assignment, said he had a “unique fighter’s tenacity” both against the Left and Trinamul.
However, a section of party leaders in the district admitted that Trinamul had of late begun making inroads into the Congress bastion by wooing party MLAs and councillors.
The Congress’s screening committee to shortlist candidates from Bengal met last night in Delhi. Cricketer Mohammed Azharuddin’s name was included in the list from the Howrah constituency. If he cannot be accommodated from Howrah for any reason, another option could be Uluberia.