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Since 1st March, 1999
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Priya chief, half of Congress happy

Calcutta, Feb. 13: The beleaguered Bengal Congress today got a full-time president after almost two years with the high command clearing Priya Ranjan Das Munshi’s name for the job.

The state Congress had been virtually headless since May 2006, when Pranab Mukherjee put in his papers owning responsibility for the party’s humiliating defeat in the Assembly elections. The Congress had got 23 seats in the 294-member House.

Das Munshi, 62, took over the reins of the faction-ridden party in Bengal after 23 years. He was made the president of the Pradesh Congress Committee in 1985, when he was the Union minister of state for commerce. He was appointed working president for a short stint in 1998 when the late A.B.A.Ghani Khan Chowdhury was at the helm.

Hours after Das Munsh’s name was flashed on television channels, factionalism came to the fore at the state party headquarters with a group of Youth Congress supporters celebrating the appointment sprinkling green gulal and the rival camp staying away. Most of those who stayed away owe their allegiance to former PCC chief Somen Mitra.

The working president of the state Congress, Pradip Bhattacharya, a Mitra-loyalist, was there but not Manas Bhuniya, the Congress legislature party chief who drops in at Bidhan Bhavan every day.

Mitra was in Burdwan and his phone was switched off.

“From today, I have ceased to head the organisation in absence of Pranabda (Mukherjee). Let Priya take over the reins and choose his lieutenants,” Bhattacharya said.

He put up a smiling face when Das Munshi called from Delhi.

Das Munshi will formally enter Bidhan Bhavan on Friday afternoon.

His main task would be to mend the fractures in the organisation with the panchayat polls around the corner.

“It is going to be a challenge for Priyada to get the party united so that we can take on the CPM-led front in the May elections,” said Subrata Mukherjee, a Das Munshi loyalist.

Congress insiders said the rift in the party would be widened further by the new appointment. “Das Munshi-loyalists used to skip all important state Congress programmes. They weren’t there even when Pranabda was given a reception for being awarded the Padmabibhusan,” said a key party functionary.“Das Munshi and his aides would be paid back in their own coin.”

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