Barely a fortnight after he rejoined the Congress, veteran politician Somen Mitra has become the party candidate from Kolkata North. This makes Mitra the first candidate from any party to be declared the official nominee at any of West Bengal’s 42 Lok Sabha seats.
And for this Mitra has Rahul Gandhi — and his plan to select candidates at some seats through US-style primaries — to thank.
Kolkata North is one of the 16 constituencies chosen by Rahul for his experiment. And since Mitra’s was the only nomination to be filed, the AICC team from Delhi declared him the winner. A formal announcement from the AICC was expected.
“The primary election was supposed to be held on February 12, but on February 7, the day nominations closed, we found that only one nomination had been submitted, that of Somen Mitra. Since it was in order, we declared him winner from the constituency. We have submitted our report to Rahulji,” Rudra Raj, one of the returning officers for the election, who was part of the 14-member AICC team that came to West Bengal on February 1 to oversee the process, told The Indian Express.
Rajpal Bisht, another returning officer, said, “We went through all formalities spelt out by the AICC and we found that Mitraji could be the candidate as there was no other nomination.”
Mitra, who is popularly known as Chhorda (the Bengali name for the younger of two or more elder brothers) in his backyard of Sealdah and Bowbazar in north Kolkata, was the Trinamool Congress MP from Diamond Harbour until he resigned his seat last month before joining the Congress. He has represented Sealdah in the Bengal assembly for three and a half decades.
As the Congress candidate from the Lok Sabha constituency of 16 lakh voters, Mitra, however, is likely to face a difficult task and a formidable field of rivals. The Trinamool’s Sudip Bandopadhyay won the seat in 2009, defeating CPM veteran Mohammad Selim by over 1 lakh votes. BJP state president Rahul Sinha might enter the mix as well.
“Last time Sudip was a candidate of the Congress-TMC alliance. But I don’t care who my opponent is anyway. A contest is a contest, and I have plunged into it. I will win,” Mitra said.
Selim gave a more nuanced assessment. “We have our own system of selecting candidates. So I don’t know who our nominee will be. But there are a few things one must remember. First, Sudip was a candidate of the Cong-TMC alliance. Second, the BJP got about 70,000 votes from here. It will be a close fight,” he said.
An additional concern for Mitra’s supporters is that the WBPCC is now headed by Baharampur MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Mitra’s old rival in the state Congress.
“Chhorda has his own machinery, his own people. The only concern is that there should not be sabotage,” a close aide said.
The party is also expected to appoint 15 parliamentary secretaries.