Bouquets in their hands and smiles playing on their lips, Congress workers climb up the stairs to reach the podium outside Bidhan Bhavan to greet Adhir Chowdhury on Thursday; the new state Congress chief takes the blessings of Somen Mitra at the programme (below). Pictures by Amit Datta
Calcutta, Feb. 13: Old friends locked him in bear hugs, party workers jostled with each other to garland him and the air filled with repeated chants of Vande Mataram — a rousing welcome greeted Adhir Chowdhury at state Congress headquarters Bidhan Bhavan this evening.
The signs of jubilation were in sharp contrast to what the party has been witnessing in recent months as it has lost nine civic bodies to Trinamul following mass defections. Three Congress MLAs have also switched to Trinamul in the past couple of months.
“The party’s central leadership has taken the right decision at the right time by appointing Adhir the state Congress chief. Under his leadership, the party’s fortunes in Bengal will turn around,” said Manas Bhuniya, Congress MLA and a former Bengal unit chief.
In the season of rallies, when all the three major opponents of the Congress have organised big public meetings at the Brigade Parade Grounds, the turnout near Bidhan Bhavan — which affected traffic in the Moulali area between 4.30pm and 6.30pm — was minuscule.
But if today’s mood at the Congress headquarters is compared with the despondency a few days ago, there is little doubt that the appointment of Chowdhury has energised the rank and file of the beleaguered organisation.
Aware that high hopes were riding on him, the junior railway minister was cautious in his address this evening.
“A turnaround cannot take place in a few days. We will have to work hard together and reach out to people,” Chowdhury said.
Fulfilling the target of “working together” will be easier said than done for the new state Congress chief. Although his predecessors such as Somen Mitra and Bhuniya were present, outgoing state unit president Pradip Bhattacharya was conspicuous by his absence.
The absence of a few other leaders, including central Calcutta district Congress president Pradip Ghosh, and the overwhelming presence of leaders from Murshidabad prompted some functionaries to forecast factional feud.
Other than factional feud, Chowdhury will also have to tackle indiscipline in the organisation, which was on full display at today’s programme.
Even as Behrampore MLA Manoj Chakraborty tried to organise the programme in an orderly manner, Congress workers jostled to garland Chowdhury, who looked uncomfortable because of the chaos.
In his speech, Chowdhury outlined his other agenda.
“We have to organise a sustained movement against the Trinamul government. It is a one-person party and there is no point thinking they are more powerful than us,” the Murshidabad strongman said before launching a virulent attack on Mamata Banerjee, his bete noire since 1996.
Mamata had opposed Chowdhury’s candidature in the 1996 Assembly polls and threatened to hang herself to protest his nomination. Mitra, the then Congress president, had stuck to his decision and Chowdhury, who was then wanted in a murder case, won from Nabagram in absentia.
Unlike some other speakers at the meeting outside the Congress headquarters today, Chowdhury did not utter a word on the possibilities of an alliance or a seat adjustment with Trinamul. But while chatting with reporters in his room later, he said the Congress would fight tooth and nail against Trinamul.
“I can assure you that their tally will go down from last time,” said Chowdhury, who accused Mamata of having an understanding with the BJP.
Anti-Trinamul rhetoric was the focus of all the speeches outside Bidhan Bhavan today. No one talked about either the CPM or the BJP. Chowdhury’s comments were the most cutting as he poked fun at the state government for dropping industries minister Partha Chatterjee and replacing him with Amit Mitra.
“Earlier it seemed, Partha would bring all the investments and the industrialists. Then, she made the change. Now, she has Mitra as Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) and Bratya Basu as Saraswati (the goddess of learning) on both sides and she is in the middle as goddess Durga,” Chowdhury said.
“Let’s have a fight with Trinamul at least once,” he thundered, drawing a huge round of applause from the crowd.
The fact that he was interested in walking the talk became evident when Chowdhury, hours after the programme, set out for Saptagram in Hooghly to meet the family of a Youth Congress activist who was allegedly killed by Trinamul supporters tonight.
Sources in the Congress said Chowdhury, who came from Delhi this afternoon, decided to visit the slain leader’s home to send out the message that the state leadership would not confine itself to Calcutta.
Congress workers in the districts often allege that party leaders hardly visit the districts in times of crisis and that is the reason behind the weakening of the organisation.
“The biggest problem for the Congress is its failure to organise sustained movements, without which the morale of the party workers cannot be lifted,” a Congress leader said.
Chowdhury often tours the remotest areas of Murshidabad during natural calamities like floods. For years, he has been visiting flood-prone areas of the district, such as Kandi, Bharatpur and Burwan, with relief materials even before the administration reaches out to the victims.
“We have to stand by the people. If we can reach out to them and win their confidence, we can oust Trinamul,” Chowdhury said.