* Pranab held the post since 2001
* Bhuniya beats Pradip in the race
A Year ahead of Assembly polls in the state,the Congress has changed its leadership in West Bengal,with senior party leader and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee making way for Manas Ranjan Bhuniya as the new president of the state unit.
Mukherjee resigned from the position on Sunday citing heavy responsibilities within the government. Party general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said following Mukherjees decision,party president Sonia Gandhi appointed Bhuniya as the new chief of the West Bengal PCC.
Pranab Mukherjees resignation as Bengal PCC president has been accepted by party president Sonia Gandhi, said Dwivedi.
A close associate of Mukherjee,Bhuniya is currently the leader of the Congress Legislature Party in the West Bengal Assembly. His appointment has come into force with immediate effect.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone from East Midnapore,Bhuniya said: Its a vast responsibility given on my shoulders,especially when the crucial state Assembly elections are just round the corner. Great challenges are lying ahead of us. On a number of previous occasions,Mukherjee who was appointed as WBPCC chief in 2001 had expressed his desire to be relieved from the post of state Congress chief,saying it was impossible for him to carry out the important works of union finance minister as well as state Congress chief simultaneously.
But Sonia used to find it difficult to find a replacement for Mukherjee who would be acceptable to all sections of the party. The name of Pradip Bhattacharya,another close associate of Mukherjee who is also the working president of West Bengal Congress,was also doing rounds,but with the polls round the corner in the state,the Congress president heeded to the proposal of making Bhuniya the state party chief.
The Congress had earlier this month also made a change in the leadership of PCC in Bihar,which is going to polls later this year.
The announcement by Sonia Gandhi comes a day after Mukherjee held long parleys over dinner with Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.
The Congress,which contested the recent local body elections independently,had fared poorly. The party is not doing well in Bengal. Apart from confronting CPM ,the Congress is being made redundant by the rise of Mamata Banerjee as the sole opposition face. Our leaders are leaving us and joining Trinamool in droves. At this time,it had become imperative that we have a full-time party president, said a senior Congress leader.
According to sources,by appointing Bhuniya,the Congress high command has marginalised a section of leaders led by Pradip Bhattacharya who were instrumental in snapping the ties with Trinamool ahead of the civic polls. It was Pradip Bhattacharya and some other leaders who convinced Pranab Mukherjee that the party will do well in the municipal elections if it decides to contest alone. However,the results proved otherwise with the Congress winning only 10 of the 141 seats in the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, said a senior party leader.
Meanwhile,sources said,Bhuniya has softened his stand against Mamata and was an important votary of post-poll alliance with the Trinamool in the hung municipalities of the state.
Cautious Trinamool terms change an internal matter
* The Trinamool Congress reacts guardedly to Congress change of guard In a guarded reaction to the change of guard in the Bengal Congress,Trinamool Congress said the choice of CLP leader Manas Bhuniya as the WBPCC president was entirely the partys own decision. It is the decision of the Congress to appoint Bhuniya as the president of the state party. Bhuniya is the vice-president of the state Congress as also the Leader of the Congress Legislature Party, said Trinamool Congress leader Partha Chatterjee.
Will remain in party: Pradip
* The working president of the Bengal Congress,Pradip Bhattacharya,said that he was glad on Bhuniyas selection as the PCC chief. I congratulate him and assure him of all co-operation in running the party. For the last 26 years,I have been serving the party in different capacities as vice-president,general secretary and working president of the state. Despite of so many odds I have never left the party. And I will continue to remain in the party, he said.