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Adhir, Rahul drag veterans into poll ring
- Bhuniya to contest from Ghatal, Mannan fielded from Serampore

Calcutta, March 21: Bengal Congress president Adhir Chowdhury had the last laugh tonight as veterans Manas Bhuniya and Abdul Mannan, who had earlier expressed unwillingness to contest the Lok Sabha polls, were nominated today by the high command.

While Bhuniya, 62, has been fielded from West Midnapore’s Ghatal, Mannan, 64, has been selected as the candidate for Hooghly’s Serampore. The Congress, which today announced the names of 21 Bengal candidates, has so far fielded 39 nominees for the state’s 42 seats.

Congress sources said the candidates for the remaining three seats — Burdwan-Durgapur, Hooghly and Krishnagar — were yet to be finalised for lack of a consensus.

“From the beginning, we have been facing problems selecting the Bengal candidates because of the reluctance of veteran leaders such as Mannan and Bhuniya to contest. Adhir had repeatedly requested them to fight the polls. Mannan and Bhuniya had told party vice-president Rahul Gandhi that their advanced age would not permit them to do so,” an AICC leader said.

“Now that their names feature on the list, it is clear that Rahulji accepted Adhir’s views. Mannan and Bhuniya had no option but to fall in line as the high command has faith in Adhir’s abilities,” he added.

Chowdhury, the junior railway minister, had also requested Rahul to ensure that the Bengal veterans entered the poll fray. Repeated calls to Chowdhury’s phone today went unanswered.

With Bhuniya being fielded from Ghatal, where he will take on Trinamul’s Dev, and Mannan being chosen for Serampore, where Trinamul’s Kalyan Banerjee and the BJP’s Bappi Lahiri are in the fray, the contests for the seats are likely to be close.

Although Rahul has not been projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidate, he has played a key role in selection of nominees.

Rahul, the sources said, had set the ball rolling for the selection of the Bengal candidates by replacing state unit chief Pradip Bhattacharya with Chowdhury, the firebrand leader from Murshidabad who has kept the Congress’s bastion in the district intact at a time the party has been hit by a barrage of defections to Trinamul elsewhere in the state.

In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress, which then had an alliance with Trinamul, had won six seats in Bengal. Although many Congress leaders have switched to Trinamul after the alliance broke off in September 2012, Chowdhury has been stressing that the party’s performance in the Lok Sabha polls this year will not be affected because the fight will be four-cornered.

“Adhir persuaded Mannanda and Manasda to reconsider their decision of not contesting. He also kept them under pressure by convincing the Delhi leadership that if the two leaders were allowed to opt out of the contest, it would send a wrong signal to the party ranks,” a Bengal Congress general secretary said.

Following persistent questions by The Telegraph earlier this month, Bhuniya, Mannan, Bhattacharya and Shankar Singh had said they would not contest the elections and had given a slew of reasons ranging from ill health to organisational responsibilities.

Bhuniya said tonight that he agreed to contest as Rahul had “proposed” his name. Mannan said: “I was initially reluctant to contest. But I am a loyal soldier of the party and I cannot disrespect the decision of Rahulji.”

The sources said the final decision on Singh and Bhattacharya’s candidature had not been taken. Chowdhury wants them to contest.

The sources said that while Chowdhury wanted Nadia Congress chief Singh to contest from Krishnagar, a section in the AICC was rooting for a Kidderpore-based leader. The high command is considering fielding Pritam Ghosh in Hooghly, but Mannan is opposed to his candidature. Mannan wants lawyer Pratim Sinha Roy to be given the ticket.

PCC general secretary Omprakash Mishra has been fielded from Balurghat, South Dinajpur. Mishra had publicly expressed his displeasure following a buzz in Congress circles that he could be fielded from Dum Dum. He had started campaigning in Balurghat yesterday. “It’s a relief for me,” Mishra said today.