BENGAL POLITICS: Sonia changes skipper in state – Manas at helm for smooth Mamata ties

BENGAL POLITICS: Sonia changes skipper in state – Manas at helm for smooth Mamata ties – just, secular and non-parochial, we trust and hope ?!!

Manas Bhunia, newly appointed Bengal Congress Party President - Buddhadeb’s manasputra or a diplomat ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH BUREAU

June 27: Sonia Gandhi today appointed Bengal Congress legislature party leader Manas Bhuniya the state party president in place of Pranab Mukherjee, signalling her intention to keep relations with Mamata Banerjee running smoothly ahead of next year’s Assembly elections.

Insiders at 10 Janpath said Manas’s loyalty to the Congress and proximity to Pranab, which ensure there are no ruffled feathers, helped him bag the post ahead of state Congress working president Pradip Bhattacharya.

According to sources, Mamata had been sounded about the move at a dinner yesterday where Pranab apparently told her he was quitting “because of preoccupations in Delhi as the finance minister”.

Pranab had been the state party president since 2001, when Sonia gave him the job of retaining the party’s identity in Bengal. Since May 2004, when the Congress-led UPA formed the government at the Centre, Pranab had repeatedly tried to get himself out of the state unit but Sonia had refused to oblige.

On her return to Calcutta today, Mamata refused comment on the change of guard in the state Congress but aides quoted her as saying Manas’s elevation would help “further cement the relations between the two parties”.

The new state Congress chief said from Delhi he would call on Mamata after reaching Calcutta on Tuesday. “I have two priorities — to strengthen the organisation and firm up the alliance with Mamatadi.”

Manas, 58, had not been in the Trinamul Congress chief’s good books until recently because of his perceived “good relations with Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee”. Some in Trinamul even called him “Buddhadeb’s manasputra (protégé)”.

The Congress leader appears to have succeeded in changing that perception.

Before last year’s Lok Sabha elections, when many Congress leaders dubbed the high command’s acceptance of Mamata’s 28-14 seat-share formula a “surrender”, Manas kept stressing the need to strengthen the alliance.

After the elections, a CPM attack on a team of MLAs led by Manas in Burdwan’s Mangalkot endeared the Congress leader to Mamata. “The attack disproved the belief in Trinamul that Manas enjoyed the chief minister’s blessings,” a state Congress leader said.

Prompted by Mamata, leader of the Opposition Partha Chatterjee had joined Congress MLAs in condemning the attack. Trinamul had not opposed a bandh called by Manas to protest the attack.

The Trinamul chief would also not have missed Manas’s silence when many Congress leaders cried “humiliation” following her decision to give her ally only 25 of the 141 wards in the Calcutta Municipal Corporation.

Trinamul’s Chatterjee today described Manas’s elevation as “really good news”. “I have known Manas since my days in the Chhatra Parishad in the ’70s. These days, we have been working together in the Assembly,” he added.

If Manas made himself dear to Mamata in the past year, he also kept his good relations with Pranab intact. Congress sources said that whenever the state party chief was in Calcutta, he would ask Manas to brief him.

Pranab himself is said to have proposed his successor’s name.

Senior AICC functionaries said that after the civic poll results, Sonia had veered to the view that Pranab’s stature could act as an obstacle to the smooth functioning of the alliance.

“(Besides being acceptable to Mamata) Manas is a tough man, not known to give up easily. He has stayed in the party at a time those like Subrata Mukherjee and Somen Mitra have moved to greener pastures,” a senior leader said.

According to a CPM leader, “Manas was rewarded for his constant criticism of us toeing (Trinamul’s) Partha’s line”.

State party working president Bhattacharya, who, Trinamul sources said, was seen to have sided with the anti-Mamata section of the Congress before the civic polls, said: “I’m glad Manas has been made the state unit’s president. I assure him all co-operation.”

Moily meets Mamata

Senior Congress leader Veerappa Moily called on Mamata at her Kalighat home this evening and discussed the state’s political situation.

After the 30-minute meeting, Moily, the Union law minister, described Mamata as a “great leader, fighting for justice for the people of Bengal”.

“We are proud of her,” he added.

CM sees disconnect with poor – more like disconnect from the reality   of the here and now ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT

Calcutta, June 27: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today told a CPM state committee meeting a “distance” had developed between the party and the poor and the immediate political task should be to re-establish the relationship.

In the concluding leg of the committee’s two-day session, the chief minister said: “It’s not that this disconnect (between the party and the poor) exists across the state. But, in the days to come, our political task would be to re-establish links with the poor and the downtrodden. We should take lessons from the past and be cautious in our steps ahead.”

The recent civic poll results showed a decimation of the CPM. Of the 81 civic bodies that went to the polls, the CPM-led Left Front won only 17. The alliance had won as many as 60 in 2005. The CPM’s main adversary, the Trinamul Congress, on the other hand, posted huge gains with its municipality count going up from three to 27.

The CPM was worst hit in North 24-Parganas, Hooghly and Burdwan districts. Of the 39 municipal bodies in these three districts, the party had control over 34 in 2005. This year, the CPM has been able to bag only six civic bodies in these three places.

CPM state secretary Biman Bose echoed Bhattacharjee on the party’s social disconnect. “Since the Lok Sabha polls, we have lost touch with the people, particularly the poor, and this organisational deficiency should be taken care of.”

At the state party headquarters, Bhattacharjee laid down the priorities for the eight-nine months left before the Assembly elections.

Some of them are: distribution of land to the landless, speeding up distribution of SC/ST and OBC certificates and work on including poor and backward Muslims in the OBC category.

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