Updated: July 4, 2021 7:46:49 am
In a surprise move, Congress president Sonia Gandhi is likely to replace Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury as the leader of the party in Lok Sabha. The move, said to be first of the many changes the party is set to unveil in its organisation, comes a fortnight before the monsoon session of Parliament.
Chowdhury, who represents Baharampur in Lok Sabha, was the face of the party’s campaign in West Bengal and the chief of the state party unit. He had been one of the staunchest critics of the G-23 group of leaders and had firmly stood behind the leadership (read the Gandhis) when the letter written by 23 senior leaders — seeking wide-ranging changes in the party organisation — came to light last August. He is also chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.
After the election defeat in West Bengal in May, Chowdhury said that the party couldn’t afford to stay “cocooned” in social media but had to hit the street and, as Sonia Gandhi had instructed, actively work to help bring relief to Covid patients.
The move to remove Chowdhury is seen as an attempt by the Congress to build bridges with the Trinamool Congress and coordinate the campaign against the BJP and the Modi government in Parliament. While the Congress had fought against the Trinamool in alliance with the Left in the Assembly elections, the central leadership had largely refrained from attacking Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and, in fact, had welcomed her victory.
Chowdhury, on the other hand, was critical of Banerjee and her government.
The Congress has, in fact, on more than one occasion thrown its weight behind Banerjee in her post-Assembly election verdict battle with the BJP. The removal of Chowdhury is perhaps an attempt by the Congress to ensure that floor coordination with the Trinamool Congress in Parliament is seamless. The Trinamool Congress, sources said, is gearing up to take its high-octane battle with West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar to Parliament in a big way.
Sources said the Trinamool Congress could reach out to Congress and other opposition parties to approach the President demanding the recall of the Governor, who it has alleged is functioning in a partisan manner. The big question now is who will succeed Chowdhury as the leader of the Congress party in the lower house.
Among the frontrunners are Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor and Anandpur Sahib MP Manish Tewari. Both of them are signatories to the letter written to Gandhi by 23 senior leaders. It is not clear whether Wayanad MP and former Congress president Rahul Gandhi will be keen to lead the depleted 52-member Congress side in Lok Sabha. According to sources, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is keen that Tewari take over as president of Punjab Congress.
If the Congress appoints either Tharoor or Tewari as the leader of the party in Lok Sabha, it will be seen as a significant rapprochement effort by the Gandhis ahead of the possible return of Rahul as Congress president.
As head of the PAC, Chowdhury, a firebrand grassroots leader, clashed twice with the BJP members in the panel over his proposals – as recent as on June 15 — to take up for discussion the Covid-19 vaccination programme and, earlier, for seeking a discussion on the pandemic and its impact on various sectors.
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