What was aimed to be a political meeting for extending solidarity with the people of Nandigram ended up as a platform at Shahid Minar where senior leaders of the State Congress demanded on Saturday that former PCC chief Somen Mitra should be given back the leadership of the Bengal Congress.
In the public meeting, where people turned out in a good number braving the scorching heat, Somen Mitra cleared allegations slapped against him by his enemies in the party and gave a call for a united Congress to take the initiative to form a secular, democratic front in the State to fight the CPI(M)-led Left Front in Bengal.
The meeting was a victory for Somen Mitra as his adversaries in the party led by Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi had been saying that Somen had lost his influence over the party and therefore was no contender for the PCC chief's post vacant in Kolkata.
But the scene was different at Shahid Minar. Majority of the PCC secretariat members, Executive Committee members, leaders of the Congress frontal organisations, MLAs and MPs had turned out at the meeting to extend support to Somen.
"How can people ever think that I will leave the party that I built since 1977. I believe that Congress has lost touch with the people. People no longer have faith in the Congress. I want the Congress to win back people's confidence," said Somen Mitra.
"I know that Congress on its own cannot take on the CPI (M) in Kolkata. Therefore the time has come to form a secular, democratic front of all the anti-Left forces to end the CPI(M) rule in Kolkata. And since Mamata Banerjee is moving away from the BJP, we can also ask her to join this front. This is what the people of Bengal want," added Somen Mitra.
Challenging his detractors in the party, Somen said that if the next PCC chief were elected through organisational elections, then he would definitely win the poll. Somen lamented that it was during his presidentship, Mamata had to leave the Congress. But Somen clarified that it was AICC's decision to throw her out of the party and he only executed the orders as president.
Speaking at the meeting, Congress leaders said that they had no responsibility to shoulder the wrong doings of the CPI(M) in Bengal. In fact, the Congress MPs – Dawa Norbula, Mannan Hossain and AH Khan Chowdhury – said that Sonia Gandhi had categorically said that Bengal Congress should go ahead with its movements against the CPI(M) for doing Nandigram and Singur.
Criticising Dasmunshi for encouraging groupism and attacking Somen Mitra, the PCC leaders said that the Congress should unite to fight the CPI (M) under Somen Mitra's leadership. "Somen Mitra is the creation of Barkatda. And Barkatda trained him in such a way that he could lead Bengal. So let us all help Somen to lead Bengal," said Barkatda's sister and Malda MLA Ruby Noor.
But the real flak at Dasmunshi came from Somen-loyalist and CLP leader Manas Bhuniya. Calling Dasmunshi a chameleon – that changes colour now and then to suit its purpose – Manas said Dasmunshi and his pack had no right to question the integrity and ability of a "man who has been a Congressman since 1977".
Manas Bhuniya said that it was unfortunate that Somen today had to give "Agnipariksha" to the people who have no credibility. Manas also said that it is under Somen's PCC presidentship, the State Congress performed the best in the Assembly, municipality and corporation elections.
"And today, some people are saying that Somen Mitra is an agent of the CPI (M). This is not just a humilation for Somen but for the entire Congress. Let the Congress give these political turncoats punishment that it thinks to be best for them," said Manas Bhuniya.
Finally, PCC working president requested the Congress leaders to bury their differences and stop dividing the Congress by attacking each other in the public. "All this hurts me. Please save the Congress and stop fighting against each other," pleaded Pradip Bhattacharya.
Meanwhile, Pranab Mukherjee, the guest speaker in this meeting, couldn't come to the city as his doctors have advised him rest following the removal of his stitches on Thursday.