Congress, weakened by regular desertions to ruling Trinamool Congress and a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party eating up the opposition space, is fast waning into a non-entity in Bengal politics leading to a chorus from within the party for an organisational revamp.
The grand old party, which once used to make a significant impact in the state polls, has virtually been an also-ran in the past few years. The voices of discontent have come to the fore after the party not only lost its deposit in the February 13 by-elections to Bongaon Lok Sabha and Krishnaganj Assembly seats, it only managed to get a paltry 2.35 per cent vote and 2.41 per cent vote respectively.
The successive defeats have not only given momentum to the demand for a change in the state Congress leadership but have also put a question mark over the decisions of the Congress high command regarding West Bengal.
“Why will people support Congress or vote for it when time and again we have either sided with TMC or with CPI (M) for forming the government at the Centre? Wrong decisions of the Congress high command and lack of proper state leadership has finished the party in Bengal.
“The party is in its death bed in Bengal and will soon cease to exist in Bengal politics,” veteran Congress leader Abdul Mannan said.
Mr. Mannan, whose PIL in Supreme Court led to the CBI investigation in the Saradha scam, felt that the “ignorance” of the central leadership about the party’s state unit has virtually turned it into a mere ‘signboard’ as claimed by TMC.
“I have been saying this since the debacle in the state in the last Lok Sabha polls that there is need to change the state leadership but the high command has plans of its own,” he rued.
The Congress which was fighting on its own had won just four seats in the last Lok Sabha polls and lost deposits in more than 32 seats out of the total 42 in Bengal.
Recently, a section of Congress leaders of West Bengal wrote a letter to party high command demanding removal of Adhir Chowdhury as its state president.
State Congress leader Manas Bhunia, under whose leadership the Congress won 40 seats in 2011 assembly polls in alliance with TMC, said there is a need for serious introspection within the party.
Congress Rajya Sabha MP from West Bengal and a former PCC president Pradip Bhattacharya said “Congress is facing a very tough time in state politics. There is immediate need to revamp the party leadership and organisation in order to infuse fresh energy in the party.”
Several state Congress leaders also lashed out at the central leadership for not helping the state unit in turning Saradha scam into a political issue, which, they said, was hijacked by the BJP.
“Senior BJP leaders are visiting Bengal on regular basis and have cornered TMC on the Saradha issue. But Congress high command is not bothered about it. Rather senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal is fighting for TMC government in Supreme Court in the scam,” a senior Congress leader said on condition on anonymity.
“It (Sibal taking the TMC brief in Supreme Court) has sent out a wrong message and has put a question mark on whether Congress is serious about fighting corruption,” he said.
The Congress, which has been out of power in the state since 1977, has slowly and steadily ceded ground to TMC.
According to senior party leaders, Congress suffered further erosion in its vote bank after it decided to forge ties with TMC on Mamata Banerjee’s terms in 2009 and 2011.
“Congress has been losing ground since 2001. In 2009 and 2011, the alliance on TMC’s terms has served a deadly blow to our party,” Mr. Bhunia said.
Since the break up of the alliance between Congress and TMC in October 2012, the former lost six of its MLAs to the ruling party, excluding two independent MLAs who had won with Congress support.
To stem the rot, the high command had replaced Pradip Bhattacharya with Murshidabad strongman and then junior railway minister Adhir Chowdhury, a known Mamata Banerjee baiter.
But Mr. Chowdhury’s style of functioning has not gone down well with senior Congress leaders, who have often slammed him for his “dictatorial” attitude.
Asked about Congress’ debacle in the by-poll and his own party leaders demanding his ouster, an unfazed Mr. Chowdhury said, “Anybody can demand my ouster. I am not bothered about it. Yes the organisation in Bengal is on a very weak wicket. But the poor results are due to its downslide throughout the country.”
AICC general secretary and in-charge of Bengal C P Joshi had a different take. “We have been able to maintain our vote share that we had in the last Lok Sabha polls. Rather Left Front has lost much of its vote share.”
Asked how BJP managed to emerge as the main opposition in the state, he told PTI, “Congress can never follow the communal and pessimistic politics of poaching on ministers of TMC. Congress will revive in days to come.”