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Rahul poll pill ‘cures’ veterans

Calcutta, March 6: A prod from Rahul Gandhi has prompted Bengal Congress veterans such as Pradip Bhattacharya, Manas Bhuniya and Abdul Mannan to agree to contest the Lok Sabha elections.

The party seniors, who had cited age and health-related issues at a meeting with the Congress vice-president in Delhi on March 3 while expressing their unwillingness to enter the poll fray, today said they would contest if the high command wanted.

Sources had said after the meeting that Rahul had assured Bengal Congress leaders that their views against a tie-up with Trinamul would be considered while finalising the list of candidates but he had asserted that senior leaders would have to contest elections if the party asked them to.

AICC sources said this evening from Delhi that newly appointed Bengal Congress chief Adhir Chowdhury had “requested the high command to ensure” that veterans like Bhattacharya, Bhuniya and Mannan contest the Lok Sabha elections.

“Somenda (Somen Mitra) has agreed to contest the elections. Pradipda, Manasda and Mannanda should follow Somenda’s example. This is necessary to bolster the sagging morale of our party workers in Bengal,” Chowdhury said this afternoon.

Sources said Mitra, who returned to his parent party from Trinamul in January, could contest from the Calcutta North Lok Sabha seat.

Chowdhury today iterated that he wanted the “old guards” of the Congress, which has been hit by a barrage of defections in Bengal in the past few months, to figure on the list of party nominees, which is likely to be announced tomorrow.

Several veterans, who have raised the pitch against an alliance with Trinamul but had initially expressed unwillingness to contest the polls, said after Rahul’s stern message that they would abide by the party’s decision.

Bhattacharya, who was recently removed as state Congress chief, today said he had “no desire” to contest the Lok Sabha polls because he was “already burdened with his responsibilities” as a Rajya Sabha member. “But if the high command wants me to contest, I will have to abide by the party’s decision,” he added. Sources said Bhattacharya could be told to contest from Asansol.

Bhattacharya said he had contested the Lok Sabha polls three times and the Assembly elections five times, but won both polls once each.

Bhuniya, the MLA from Sabang in West Midnapore, could be offered the Ghatal seat in the same district, sources said. Actor Dev is the Trinamul candidate for Ghatal.

“I am not mentally prepared to contest the Lok Sabha polls. However, if the party high command asks me to enter the fray, I will abide by it because I consider myself a loyal soldier of the Congress,” Bhuniya said.

Mannan, who had cited ill-health for not wanting to contest the elections, echoed Bhattacharya and Bhuniya. Mannan, a state Congress spokesperson and four-time MLA from Champdani in Hooghly, might contest the Serampore seat.

PCC general secretary Krishna Debnath, who was also unwilling to contest, said today that she could be fielded from Jadavpur. Another PCC general secretary, Maya Ghosh, has been requested to file her nomination for the Diamond Harbour seat but she is still reluctant, the sources said.

Chowdhury, the Behrampore MP, said that at a meeting with district presidents in Calcutta last week, he had insisted that Bhattacharya, Bhuniya and Mannan contest the polls.

“Several district presidents had agreed with me that those who are leading the party from the front should join forces with ordinary workers to contest the Lok Sabha polls. If those at the helm contest, others will be inspired to do the same,” he said.