Kolkata, Sep 19 (IANS) The Congress suffered a big jolt in West Bengal, as its former state chief Manas Bhunia and a host of other frontline party leaders including provincial office-bearers, crossed over to the ruling Trinamool Congress on Monday.
Bhunia, 64, who served as a senior minister in Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet for 16 months since May 2011, when the Congress and Trinamool were allies, accused three of his former party leaders of standing as a “barrier” between him and Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi.
“I used to communicate with the high command four times every month. But (Congress general secretary in charge of Bengal) C.P. Joshi, and two other leaders stood as a barrier between me and the Gandhis,” the Sabong MLA said, in an apparent reference to state Congress president Adhir Chowdhury and Leader of Opposition Abdul Mannan.
“I think Trinamool Congress is turning out to be the true Congress. I’m a Trinamool Congress worker now and my political future will be decided by the party high command,” he said, addressing a crowded media conference at the Trinamool state headquarters “Trinamool Bhavan” amid repeated cries of “Mamata Banerjee zindabad”.
He said the Congress headquarters in the state “Bidhan Bhavan” was now akin to a “haunted house” from which the party workers were running away.
Alongside Bhunia, another veteran Congress leader and legislature party chief in the previous assembly Mohammad Sohrab also switched allegiance to the Trinamool.
State Congress Vice President Asit Majumdar, four general secretaries and six provincial secretaries as also a number of leaders of its students, youth, minorities and trade union wings also deserted the party to pitch their lot with the Trinamool. The list included over half a dozen AICC members. Bhunia’s wife Geeta Bhunia was also among the renegades.
Welcoming the new entrants, Trinamool Secretary General Partha Chatterjee and Youth Trinamool chief Avishek Banerjee, who is also Banerjee’s nephew, handed over the party flags to them.
“Manas Bhunia, who has handled several high profile portfolios for Congress in the past, has decided to join Trinamool being inspired by the party’s ideology and Mamata Banerjee’s development agenda in the state. He is an old colleague. We welcome him to the party with open arms, We also welcome Sohrab and other leader,” Chatterjee said.
Ridiculing the state Congress, Chatterjee wondered what was left of the party now.
“West Bengal Pradesh Congress committee has been for all practical purposes dissolved today,” he remarked.
The 83-year-old Sohrab, who severed his six decade-old link with the Congress, expressed his “disillusionment” with the party’s tie up with the Communist Party of India-Marxist led Left Front during the assembly polls earlier this year
“Before this election we agreed to have a seat adjustment with the CPI-M on condition that there would be no disputes over the seats of our 31 MLAs then. But in reality, CPI-M put up candidate in my constituency and despite promises from our high command that the CPI-m will withdraw their nominees, it was not done. I felt deprived as our men were misled,” said Sohrab, who had lost the polls.
“After the election, I was asked to organise rallies and meetings jointly with the CPI-M. Ideologically, CPI-M and Congress are poles apart. Congress stands for non-violence while CPI-M promotes violence. I cannot move jointly with a party with so much ideological and political difference,” he said.
Bhunia’s switchover to the Trinamool was in the air for over a couple of months, as his relation with Chowdhury and Mannan nosedived after he refused to step down from the assembly Public Accounts Committee chairman’s post.
Disregarding Mannan’s plea to appoint CPI-M legislature party leader Sujan Chakraborty to the slot, Speaker Biman Banerjee nominated Bhunia on July 4, hours after a court issued summons against the latter in connection with a murder case.
Getting aggressive of late,Bhunia had described Joshi as a “sleeping (AICC) general secretary”, repeatedly attacked Chowhdury and Mannan, and lavished praise on Mamata Banerjee, calling her the country’s best chief minister.