Next Year's Poll Battle Just Got Tougher For Mamata Banerjee With Bete Noire Being Appointed State Congress Chief

Next Year's Poll Battle Just Got Tougher For Mamata Banerjee With Bete Noire Being Appointed State Congress ChiefWest Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee President Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. (Indranil Bhoumik/Mint via Getty Images)
  • Five time Lok Sabha MP from Bahrampur, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, is the new Bengal Pradesh Congress chief.

    Chowdhury is a known Mamata Banerjee-baiter and an ardent advocate of an electoral tie up with the Left in Bengal.

Veteran Congressman and Gandhi family loyalist Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has just been appointed the president of the Congress unit in Bengal.

The appointment is good news for the BJP. That's because Chowdhury is a known Mamata Banerjee-baiter and an ardent advocate of an electoral tie up with the Left in Bengal. As the Bengal Pradesh Congress chief, Chowdhury is sure to up the ante against the Trinamool.

The Congress' campaign for the forthcoming Assembly polls in the state is expected to target the Trinamool as well as the BJP. That, in effect, means that the anti-BJP vote would get divided between the Trinamool and the Congress. That would also defeat Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee's strategy of consolidating the anti-BJP vote.

Chowdhury has been a vocal and stringent critic of Banerjee and has been vociferously attacking her for alleged corruption and mis-governance.

Banerjee will have a more difficult time during the campaign for the Assembly polls fending off attacks from both the Congress and the BJP.

Before the 2016 Assembly polls, it was Chowdhury who steered an electoral understanding with the Left. Though the Congress-Left alliance fared very poorly in the polls, that did not dampen Chowdhury's enthusiasm to keep the alliance going.

The Trinamool has not shied away from returning Chowdhury's volleys against Banerjee, terming him as a "BJP agent".

The post of Bengal Congress chief fell vacant after the death of incumbent Somen Mitra who had a cordial relationship with Mamata Banerjee. By choosing Chowdhury to head the party unit in Bengal, the Congress top leadership has signalled to Mamata Banerjee that it will not concede ground to her in her state. This is sure to infuriate Banerjee, who has been trying to impress upon the Congress leadership to align with her party in Bengal.

The Trinamool and the Congress fought the 2011 Assembly polls, which brought Banerjee to power in the state, as allies.

However, relentless attacks on Congress leaders, functionaries and supporters by Trinamool cadres and poaching of Congress leaders, including some MLAs, by the Trinamool created bad blood between the two parties.

That led to a break in ties and Chowdhury as well as a powerful section of state Congress leaders have been unrelenting in their criticism of Banerjee and her party since then.

"The Trinamool tried to wipe us out of Bengal even though we were allies. It stabbed us in the back and betrayed our trust. So there is no question of joining hands with the Trinamool again or going soft on that party or its chief," said a senior Congress leader.

Realising the importance of putting up a united front against the BJP, whose rise in Bengal has alarmed Banerjee, she has sent many feelers to the Congress high command to align with her party once again in Bengal. Banerjee is learnt to have personally approached Sonia Gandhi, with who she shares a good rapport. But the Congress president, advised on the perils of any alliance with the Trinamool, has been gently fobbing her off.

Rahul Gandhi, who has a good equation with Left leaders, has been against a tie-up with the Trinamool in Bengal. Chowdhury is close to Rahul Gandhi.

"The appointment of Adhir Chowdhury as the Bengal Congress chief will sharpen the divide between the Trinamool and the Congress, and will thus divide the anti-BJP vote," said Samiran Dasgupta, a professor of political science.

Under Chowdhury, the Congress is expected to campaign sharply against both the Trinamool and the BJP. The Left will also do the same.

That is bad news for Mamata Banerjee since a division in the non-BJP vote will benefit the BJP.

Mamata Banerjee will also find it difficult to fend stringent attacks from the BJP, Congress and the Left.

All the three parties will target her for alleged corruption, mis-governance, political violence, politicisation of the state administration and the police, throttling dissent and democracy and intolerance.

"When all opposition parties (BJP, Congress and Left) level similar charges against the Trinamool, the latter will find itself in a tough spot. Fending off attacks from one party is difficult enough, but facing similar accusations from the entire opposition when the Trinamool is embattled and fighting very hard to retain power will be an overpowering challenge," said Dasgupta.

The appointment of Chowdhury also puts paid to Mamata Banerjee's ambition of forging opposition unity at the national level against the BJP.

"Mamata Banerjee is not a mature politician who will distinguish between state and national politics. When the Congress starts attacking her at the state level, she is sure to quarrel with that party at the national level," said Calcutta University sociology teacher Sudhir Karmakar.

The Trinamool, however, is putting up a brave face. "The Congress and the Left have no support in Bengal and have lost political relevance. Adhir Chowdhury is a BJP stooge and people of Bengal know that. They will give a befitting reply to all anti-Trinamool forces," said a senior Trinamool leader who is a Rajya Sabha MP.

"Had the Trinamool not been bothered, it would not have attacked Chowdhury and would have simply ignored his appointment as state Congress chief," said Samiran Dasgupta, however.

Facing a tough challenge from an aggressive BJP, the Trinamool could have done without a powerful voice like that of Chowdhury--a five time Lok Sabha MP from Bahrampur in Bengal's Murshidabad district--adding to the offensive against it and its chief (Mamata Banerjee).

Chowdhury's appointment, thus, has made the going much tougher for Banerjee and her party.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.


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