Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury was on Friday removed as West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee president, triggering speculation that the party was keeping its doors open for joining hands with the Trinamool Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Chowdhury is known for his fierce criticism of TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and strong opposition to any electoral understanding with the ruling party.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi appointed Chowdhury as chairman of the campaign committee, according to an AICC press release. Former state Congress president Somendra Nath Mitra was appointed the new state party chief.
“My primary task will be to strengthen the party to contest elections. We will seek support from every quarter of our party,” Mitra said.
When asked about his stand on an alliance with TMC, he said, “It will be best if the Congress can stand alone in the state. An alliance can help the Congress increase seats initially, but in the long run party strength will wilt.” He added that the decision of the high command would be final and he would stick to it.
Chowdhury termed the development a routine affair, but said he was unaware of the campaign committee of which he has been made chairman. “I am not aware of the agenda of the campaign committee. Let it come to me first, then I will decide my course of action,” he told The Indian Express.
Asked if he had been removed to make it easier for the Congress to tie up with TMC, he said, “I don’t know about that, but my message is loud and clear — I will always be against the TMC. The Congress was devastated by the TMC in Bengal. Congress was turned into a persecuted tribe. How can we join hands with such a party?”
This will be Mitra’s second stint as Bengal Congress president, the first being from 1992 to 1998. It was during his term that Banerjee broke out of the Congress and formed TMC in 1997. In 2008, Mitra formed a new party, which merged with the TMC. He returned to the Congress in 2014.
Chowdhury, a former Minister of State for Railways, has won the Behrampore Lok Sabha seat consecutively since 1999. He became WBPCC chief just before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and was instrumental in convincing Mitra to return to the Congress.
Chowdhury had a bitter relationship with the state government as he found himself in a number of criminal cases.
The change of guard in the state Congress ahead of 2019 has fuelled speculation that the party is willing to align with the TMC. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has already called for a federal front and “one-to-one fight” in states against the BJP. Banerjee had also met Congress leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi during her visit to Delhi on August 1.
The West Bengal Congress has been divided on choosing its alliance partner for the Lok Sabha elections. While Chowdhury and others advocated an understanding with the CPM, rival camp leaders Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury and Mausam Noor wanted an alliance with the TMC.
Chowdhury was key to forging an understanding with the CPM in 2016 Assembly elections. In the Lok Sabha too, Chowdhury was keen on a tie-up with the Left and vehemently opposed to any understanding with the TMC, sources said.