It is an open war between former PCC chief Somen Mitra and Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi for the PCC chief's post that is lying vacant after Union External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee submitted his resignation to AICC president Sonia Gandhi in May 2006.
Unhappy with the state leadership and the AICC high command for being ignored for the PCC chief's post, Somen has not only opened his mouth but is getting down to the basics to show his organisational strength and control over the Bengal State Congress.
And the first challenge is Somen Mitra's decision to hold a rally at Shahid Minar in the city, which is going to be attended by Pranab Mukherjee, PCC working president Pradip Bhattacharya, CLP leader Manas Bhuniya and other Congress leaders.
Somen's decision to hold the public meeting comes immediately after Priya's announcement to hold a public rally at Naxalbari on April 20 that would be attended by MPs Adhiur Chowdhury and AH Khan Chowdhury, State Congress leaders Abdul Mannan, Shankar Singh and others.
"How can you be sure of who will attend which meeting? Wait for April 21 and you will see that Somen Mitra is not alone in his move to demand that State Congress in Bengal is in moribund and time has come to revive it. Only time will prove and show my president Sonia Gandhi how well connected I am with my party men at all levels and in all districts," a smiling Somen Mitra told Hindustan Times.
Indeed even Dasmunshi knows that if Sonia Gandhi decides to hold an election to the post of Bengal Congress president, Somen would win hands down. The numbers tell the whole story. Out of the PCC 450 general body members, 375 belong to Somen camp. In the 100-member PCC Executive Committee, 85 are Somen followers.
Of the 35 PCC secretariat members, 22 are Somen men. And among the 20 MLAs of the Congress, 12 swear by Somen. In the districts, the picture is same. Out of the 18 districts in the state, Somen has complete control over the organisation of 14 districts.
"Why just go by strength, see my loyalty to the Congress and the Gandhi family. I have never left the Congress. Again, when Indira Gandhi launched the Indira Congress on January 1st, 1978, at Vithalbai Patel Bhavan, I took 3,000 Congressmen from Bengal to attend the function," said Somen Mitra.
Somen says he still remembers when everybody in the state Congress was leaving Indira after the Congress debacle in 1977, he remained with Indira and went around Bengal saying: No Indira, No Congress. And then Somen came close to Sanjay Gandhi. Thereafter Somen was a close lieutenant of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
"Therefore, it is ridiculous to say that I am speaking against Sonia Gandhi. I am very close to the Gandhi family so the accusation is totally false. But there are people who are telling Sonia Gandhi that I no longer matter in Bengal. So time has come for my party to give a reply to this," said seven-time Sealdah MLA Somen Mitra.
Though his detractors are not willing to give him much importance, the truth is Somen Mitra does have benefactors in Delhi too. His strongest trump card is Pranab Mukherjee.
Others include CM of J&K Ghulam Nabi Azad, Union Minister of Commerce Kamal Nath, Political Secretary to Sonia Gandhi Ahmed Patel, Union MoS in External Affairs Anamd Sharma, Union MoS in non-conventional energy Bilas Mutambar, etc – they are some of those who don't want Somen to lose out.