IN A major blow to the Congress, as many as 17 councillors from Berhampore Municipality including its chairman defected to the Trinamool Congress, allowing the ruling party to take effective control of the civic body.
The municipality was known to be a virtual fiefdom for state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury, also the chief advisor of the civic body. The Congress had won 26 seats in the last municipal corporation elections while the TMC had one seat. The other was won by an independent candidate.
At a programme organized by state transport minister Suvendu Adhikari on Sunday, 17 Congress councillors led by chairman of the Berhampore Municipality Nilratan Adhya joined the TMC, taking its effective tally to 18 – a clear majority in the 28-member civic body.
“For years, he (Adhir Chowdhury) has been here. But what has he done for the area? Nothing. He is a criminal,” Adhikari alleged.
TMC MP and party’s youth wing chief Abhishek Banerjee, who was also present at the programme, said, “This is very good news for Bengal. We have entered the Berhampore Municipality today. From the Congress, 17 people have joined the TMC today. We have 18 seats in the 28-member municipality now.”
Malda and Murshidabad are considered strongholds of Congress, with the latter enjoying an unchallenged status since 1983 when it was the only Opposition in the Left-ruled state.
However, after Mamata Banerjee — who was seen as the party’s future in Bengal — left with a large number for Congress leaders and formed her own party, the state Congress’ influence remained confined to parts of north Bengal.
Recently, in a blow to Congress and Left Front, the TMC took control of Malda and Jalpaiguri zila parishads after several of its members switched over to Mamata’s party. The takeover of Berhampore Municipality is being viewed as a major victory for Mamata against Adhir Chowdhury.
Chowdhury had alleged, “It is not possible to say that every one is joining TMC of their free will. Some are becoming TMC councillors to earn money, while others have been threatened that they will be framed under false charges and sent to prison if they don’t join.”
Leader of Opposition and senior Congress leader Abdul Mannan had also made a similar allegation and claimed that Mamata was slowly trying to engineer an “opposition-free state”.
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The TMC, however, maintained that the defection was a sign of Adhir’s diminishing credibility in Murshidabad area, where he is often described as the ‘Robin Hood’.
“After allying with the Left, his (Adhir’s) credibility is lost. These councillors are joining us because they have realized that development is possible only with the TMC,” said a Trinamool leader. Adhikari declared that the switch marked the beginning of the end for Adhir Choudhury’s reign in the Murshidabad area.