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Questions on Pradip’s nomination

Calcutta, Feb. 14: Former state Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya’s absence from yesterday’s programme to welcome his successor Adhir Chowdhury has prompted many in the party to question the move to appoint the former in the first place.

“I cannot remember any party event in the recent past at (state Congress headquarters) Bidhan Bhavan that Pradipda did not attend. It appears he stayed away yesterday to avoid embarrassment. But his no-show was a face loss for us,” a senior Congress leader said.

The past three years for the Congress, which takes pride in its 128-year history, in Bengal has been the worst for the party with leaders defecting to Trinamul in droves. Because of the defections, the Congress lost control of at least nine civic bodies. Recently, three Congress MLAs switched to Trinamul.

“Pradipda is a nice person. He is elder to us. But what had happened to the state Congress under his leadership was inevitable as everyone knew he couldn’t lead any movement,” another senior state Congress leader said. “No one knew why he was made the PCC chief. What we used to discuss among ourselves is now being discussed openly,” he added.

Bhattacharya, 68, was made the state Congress chief in June 2011, barely a fortnight after then Congress president Manas Bhunia was inducted into the Mamata Banerjee cabinet on May 20.

Bhunia, whose three-year term as state Congress chief was scheduled to end in 2013, had apparently been unwilling to join the cabinet. “But finally, I had joined at the behest of the party,” Bhunia said.

During the appointment of Bhattacharya, the Congress had officially said he had replaced Bhunia because of the party’s one-man-one-post policy.

Sources in the Congress, however, suggested today that the high command chose Bhattacharya — originally a leader from Burdwan — as they wanted to keep Mamata Banerjee, an alliance partner then, in good humour.

“Other contenders like Adhirda or Deepa Das Munshi were not chosen as they were known for their staunch anti-Mamata stand. At that point of time, the high command wanted to maintain a good working relationship with Mamata,” a source said.

Bhattacharya, sources said, had lobbied for the top slot as he did not have any post those days. Although he was elected to the Rajya Sabha from Bengal in August 2011 and later made the president of the state Intuc, Bhattacharya continued as the PCC chief as the high command ignored reservations of state leaders.

Although the arrangement suited the Congress in the initial days of the alliance, when Mamata pulled out of the UPA II government in September 2012, the leadership realised its “mistake but did not take any corrective action”, a state unit leader said.

Even as Trinamul activists allegedly attacked Congress supporters and tried to woo and coerce its workers, the party under Bhattacharya’s leadership did little to arrest the slide in its support base.

The Congress fared badly in the 2012 civic polls and the performance was even worse in last year’s panchayat elections. The party managed to win only one zilla parishad.

“There was no logic in allowing Pradipda to continue,” a source said. Now that Chowdhury has replaced Bhattacharya, Congress workers are expecting a turnaround as the junior railway minister has vowed to organise a sustained movement against Trinamul.

“Finally, the high command made the change. But the leadership should have done it a few months ago as there is very little time left for the Lok Sabha polls,” a Congress source said.