Kolkata: The Congress unit in West Bengal has been hit by defections to the Trinamool Congress, and a number of those leaving are relatives of party stalwarts.
Over the past two months, three such Congress leaders have joined Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool. Two of them belong to former President Pranab Mukherjee’s family, and one is the wife of late West Bengal unit chief Somen Mitra.
While the West Bengal Congress has described such leaders as a “burden” on the party, the latter say the Trinamool is the only “formidable and strong Opposition” to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Of the three, Somen Mitra’s wife Sikha Mitra, a former Trinamool Congress MLA, and Suvra Ghosh, former Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) general secretary and Pranab Mukherjee’s sister-in-law, joined the Trinamool Congress Sunday in the presence of MP Mala Roy and MLA Nayana Bandyopadhyay.
In the first week of July, Pranab Mukherjee’s son, Abhijit Mukherjee, a former Congress MP, also shifted his allegiance to the Trinamool.
Abhijit told ThePrint that those who believe in the Congress’ ideology are flocking to Mamata Banerjee because she is the only “formidable Opposition” to Modi.
“Mamata didi is the only politician who can fight Modi’s fascism. We have seen how she single-handedly stalled Modi’s advance in Bengal. Every politician who wants to see an end to the Modi era, should and will join hands with Mamata Banerjee,” he said. “I am also getting calls from leaders of Maharashtra, Kerala and Tamil Nadu who want me to facilitate a meeting between them and Didi. This is the extent of her acceptability.”
Suvra Ghosh, while joining the Trinamool, called the Congress in Bengal a “Murshidabad-centric party”. Murshidabad is West Bengal Congress chief Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s home turf.
Mitra told ThePrint that she had put politics aside since her husband quit the Trinamool and joined the Congress in 2014. “I am overwhelmed by Didi’s warmth. I have returned to the Trinamool after seven years, because Didi called me back,” she said.
A ‘depleting force’
State Congress president Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury told ThePrint that those who left were a burden on the party. “I personally feel these people were a burden to the party. They have fallen prey to their relentless greed,” he said. “In politics, all parties go through ups and downs. There are people who want to enjoy only ups.”
He also said they had no achievements of their own. “Can anyone tell me what the achievements of these people are? Pranab babu was a national asset. Somen da fought his way. But what did their relatives do? It does not matter to us if these people stay or quit,” he added.
He also accused the leaders of being deserters. “Every political party goes through phases. These are the people for whom the Congress party has given so much,” Chowdhury said. “One of them was made an MP by the party in Bengal. And see what they did? During a troubled time, they have deserted their party.”
His views were echoed by Pradip Bhattacharya, senior Congress leader and a Rajya Sabha MP. “There are some members who always want to jump ship at every opportunity,” Bhattacharya said. “I have nothing to comment on their personal and political choices. My faith lies in the young Congress workers who will surely rejuvenate the party.”
Other senior Congress leaders in Bengal, however, said the defections are reflective of the decay in the party’s structure in the state.
“If any political party becomes weak, then some of its members generally defect. Before assembly elections, when some felt that Mamata might lose, they joined the BJP,” said Amitabha Chakrabarti, former general secretary of WB PCC and a senior leader. “In the case of Congress in Bengal, the decline is steady. It has decimated completely. We are all waiting for the AICC to address the issue soon.”
The senior leaders, however, refused to describe the defections as instances of poaching.
“Mamata Banerjee poached Congress leaders earlier. She intimidated and threatened Congress leaders and workers after 2012. They were forcibly made to join Trinamool. But this time it is different,” Chowdhury said. “It is some Congress leaders whose greed knows no bounds. They are hankering after positions and power.”
The Trinamool, meanwhile, says Mamata “is the only force to reckon with”. “Senior politicians who want to oppose and defeat Modi-Shah, will be rallying behind Mamata Banerjee,” said Trinamool state general secretary Kunal Ghosh when asked about the defections.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)