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Houdini, doff your hat to Pradip

Calcutta, March 24: The Bengal Congress today announced its candidates for the remaining three seats and ended days of speculation over Pradip Bhattacharya’s nomination, a day before Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Calcutta.

The announcement of the three nominees — Bipin Vohra for Burdwan-Durgapur, Razia Ahmed for Krishnagar and Pritam Singh for the Hooghly seat — must have come as a relief for the former state Congress president who was earlier supposed to be fielded for the Burdwan-Durgapur seat, sources said.

Citing age-related problems and preoccupation with organisational work, Bhattacharya, a Rajya Sabha member, had expressed his unwillingness to contest the Lok Sabha polls despite state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury wanting veteran leaders like him to be nominated.

Two other names on Chowdhury’s wishlist — Manas Bhuniya and Abdul Mannan — have already been named candidates for the Ghatal and Serampore seats, respectively.

According to Congress insiders, although a section PCC leaders gave the credit to Rahul Gandhi for nudging the two Bengal veterans into the contest, some leaders questioned how Bhattacharya managed to keep himself out of the poll fray.

“If Manas and Mannan, who had initially declined to contest citing their old age and organisational responsibilities, have agreed to enter the poll fray, why won’t Pradipda contest?” asked a senior state Congress leader.

“It seems Rahulji did not want to force him beyond a point as he has been given another important assignment as the chairman of the campaign committee, which would require quite extensive travel,” the leader added.

But several Congress leaders The Telegraph spoke to said Bhattacharya should not have been allowed to escape contesting.

A Congress leader from Burdwan tonight expressed his resentment over industrialist Vohra’s nomination for the Burdwan-Durgapur seat. “Why should we accept a Calcutta-based industrialist for the Burdwan seat?” he asked.

The leader said Bhattacharya “could have been a far better candidate” for the seat, recounting that he had won the Burdwan Assembly seat in 1972 and became a minister in Siddhartha Shakar Ray’s cabinet.

A section of leaders expressed reservations over the nomination of Razia and Pritam from the Krishnagar and Hooghly seats, respectively.

Nadia district president Shankar Singh today raised his pitch against the nomination of a Topsia-based leader for the Krishnagar seat.

“It is unfortunate that a Topsia-based leader has been chosen for the Krishnagar seat, ignoring my recommendation for a Kalyani-based professor of Bidhan Chandra Krishi Viswavidyalaya,” he said.

Mannan, too, appeared peeved with Pritam Singh’s nomination for the Hooghly seat.

“Pritam has been fielded for the Hooghly seat despite my opposition to his candidature. Being myself a candidate for the adjoining Serampore seat, my recommendation for of a Chinsurah-court lawyer should have been taken into consideration,” said Mannan, who had earlier threatened to quit the party over his recommendation.

About 500 Trinamul workers today joined the Congress at the state Congress headquarters in the presence of Chowdhury and three former PCC chiefs.

Chowdhury said the joining of 500 Trinamul workers on the eve of Rahul Gandhi’s visit to the city would embolden the party ranks and leaders across the state.

Trinamul leaders did not attach any importance to the switch. “It matters little to us if some of our disgruntled elements join the Congress at a time we are at the pinnacle of power.”