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Crossover ‘spark’ for Cong

Calcutta, Feb. 16: The Trinamul chief and deputy chief of a gram panchayat in South 24-Parganas today rejoined the Congress along with 100 ruling party workers, giving the Congress control of the rural body and prompting Adhir Chowdhury to appeal to all defectors to return.

The development comes at a time the Congress has been hit by a barrage of defections by MLAs, civic councillors and panchayat functionaries to Trinamul. The ruling party has taken over nine civic bodies from the Congress in the past few months, riding on defections.

Newly elected state Congress chief Chowdhury, in whose presence the pradhan and upa-pradhan of the Daria gram panchayat in Canning and their supporters switched to the party at state unit headquarters Bidhan Bhavan, predicted that the “spark would become a wildfire”.

“Today’s switch is not a small thing for us. I call upon my erstwhile party colleagues, who have defected to Trinamul, to return. I will ensure that they are rehabilitated with dignity and honour,” said Chowdhury, also the junior railway minister and Behrampore MP.

Chowdhury, who took over as state Congress chief six days ago, said this was the first time the party had taken over a rural body from Trinamul.

He announced that some Trinamul activists would join the Congress in Hooghly on February 24. The Congress will organise a silent padayatra in the district on that day to protest the murder of youth leader Avijit Rahman allegedly by Trinamul activists.

Three Trinamul workers were arrested today in connection with the murder.

Nanda Rani Sardar, the pradhan of the Daria gram panchayat, said at Bidhan Bhavan: “(Upa-pradhan) Sidheswar Naskar and I joined the Congress because we were not being given any respect by Trinamul. As the six Independents on the panchayat board who were earlier backing Trinamul have said they will support us, the Congress will take control of the rural body.”

Sardar and Naskar had switched to Trinamul from the Congress before the panchayat elections last year.

Former state Congress presidents Pradip Bhattacharya, Somen Mitra and Manas Bhuniya were present at the media conference addressed by Chowdhury at Bidhan Bhavan today. Bhattacharya, who was replaced by Chowdhury, had not attended a programme at Bidhan Bhavan on February 10 where the latter was given a rousing reception.

The Trinamul leadership did not attach any importance to today’s defections. “It matters little if some functionaries of a rural body switch to the Congress. South 24-Parganas will remain our stronghold,” a Trinamul general secretary said.

Not a crime: Hakim

Urban development minister Firhad Hakim today said it was “not a crime to stand by a good organiser”, a day after Mamata Banerjee praised Birbhum Trinamul chief Anubrata Mondal, an accused in a murder case. Hakim did not take any names.

The chief minister had said she would always stand by Mondal, adding that he was a “fabulous organiser” who was being “unnecessarily targeted”.