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Somen Mitra to head Congress in Bengal

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Somen Mitra

Kolkata, Sep 22 : The Congress on Friday appointed Somen Mitra as President of its West Bengal unit, replacing Adhir Ranajan Chowdhury who was bitterly anti-Trinamool Congress and pro-Left. Chowdhury will be the Chairman of the campaign committee.

Immediately after the announcement, Mitra said he would work to strengthen the party in the state ahead of the 2019 general elections.

“If we fail to strengthen the party’s organisation, we will not be able to get people’s support. Therefore, my first aim will be to strengthen the party in Bengal. We need collaborative cooperation by party leaders, activists and general people to achieve that goal,” he said.

Mitra, who takes over the reins of the state Congress after over two decades, refused to say whether his party would join hands with the state’s ruling Trinamool Congress to counter the rising clout of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state.

“We cannot take a decision on that. Congress is a national party. So decisions taken by the state units do not have any value. If the party asks us, we will convey our opinion,” he said.

“I will talk to co-workers and party leaders and then take the call on this issue.”

“Party’s central leadership has given me this responsibility. They have shown confidence and belief on me. I have never asked for any post from any level of our party’s leadership,” he said responding to a query on the possible reasons for which he was handed over responsibility at the age of 75.

Mitra assured he would hold talks with the Congress MLAs who had been opposing Chowdhury’s leadership in the state.

Chowdhury had repeatedly claimed that he does not have any political understanding with the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress and argued in favour of an alliance with the Left in 2019.

Besides the appointments of Mitra and Chowdhury, Congress President Rahul Gandhi also named Pradip Bhattacharya as the Chairman of the Coordination Committee.

Shankar Malakar, Nepal Mahato and Abu Hasem Khan Chowdhury have been named as Working Presidents.

Mitra, affectionately called “Chhorda” (youngest elder brother) by the Congress rank and file, has enjoyed a bitter sweet relations with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee. The two became arch-rivals when Banerjee started rising in the party hierarchy by leaving behind veteran leaders in the mid 1980s and the 1990s.

It was after losing to Mitra’s organisational might in the state Congress presidential election that Banerjee quit the party and formed the Trinamool in 1997.

Mitra, on the other hand, left the Congress in 2008 to float his own party, Pragatisheel Indira Congress, which he merged with the Trinamool in 2009. He won the Lok Sabha polls on a Trinamool ticket in 2009, but rejoined the Congress in 2014.

There have been reports of infighting within the Bengal Congress for some time, with several state party members writing to the central leadership seeking Chowdhury’s removal to revive the Congress in the state.

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Politics

Digvijaya’s statement, Kamalnath’s tweet rock MP Assembly

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Bhopal, Feb 20 (IANS) Statements and counter-statements over twin issues of Mandsaur farmer deaths and alleged scam in plantation along Narmada banks rocked the Madhya Pradesh Assembly on Wednesday.

Former Chief Minister Digvijaya Singh’s statement and a tweet from incumbent Chief Minister Kamal Nath over the issues were cited by the state ministers repeatedly.

As the proceedings began, Opposition leader Gopal Bhargav launched an attack on the Congress-led state government, saying: “A constitutional crisis-like situation has arisen in the state as questions are being raised outside the House over ministers’ statements,” said Bhargav.

However, Speaker N.P. Prajapati made it clear that discussion cannot be held on the basis of reports appearing in the media.

At this stage, Kamal Nath got up to say: “I do have knowledge of Constitution, so no one should try to teach me. We should not hold any discussion based on news reports.”

Legislator Narottam Mishra also raised objections to the Chief Minister’s tweet.

It may be recalled that in response to a query from Congress MLA Harsh Vijay Gehlot, in a written reply state Home Minister Bala Bachchan had said: “The police had opened fire in Mandsaur’s Pipalia Mandi in self-defence, to disperse the uncontrolled mob, and to protect government and private properties.”

On the other hand, Forest Minister Umang Singhar has given clean-chit to previous government in the alleged plantation scam on Narmada banks and hinted that there no such scam took place.

Digvijaya had expressed dissatisfaction over the responses of two ministers in the Congress-led state government.

“Home Minister had dubbed the firing over farmers in Mandsaur as right, we can’t accept it. And, Forest Minister had said that no corruption took place in the plantation drive at Narmada banks. It means they gave clean-chit to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. The question is, what was the need to take a stand?” he said.

Kamal Nath had on Tuesday night tweeted in Hindi: “We won’t spare the culprits of Mandsaur firing, or those of plantation scam, or those committing financial irregularities during the Singhastha. It’s our resolve to get justice all – be it victim farmers or sentence to scamsters.”

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Election

Modi popular but will be tough for BJP to replicate 2014 in UP: Survey

And in what may come as good news for the Opposition, the CLSA report says the entry of Priyanka Gandhi — which has already energised the Congress cadres — may hurt the prospects of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) combine and give the BJP a tough fight.

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New Delhi, Feb 20 (IANS) Prime Minister Narendra Modi still remains popular with the masses but it would be difficult for the BJP to replicate its 2014 success in Uttar Pradesh, says a survey on the evolving political scenario in the state ahead of the upcoming elections.

The survey also says that the tension after the Pulwama terror attack will have a significant bearing on the upcoming general elections.

Released on Wednesday, the survey report by market research and brokerage firm CLSA says that the BJP would find it difficult to replicate its 2014 success, though it could still win over half of the Lok Sabha seats in the country’s most populous state.

“Our discussions with various politicians, including those of the BJP, indicate that the BJP would likely win 40-45 seats (out of 80) in UP, on the higher side against 73 back in 2014,” the report adds.

A CLSA team travelled across Uttar Pradesh over the past two weeks to reach its conclusions.

During the course of its survey, it also found that Modi still remains popular on the ground across different castes, a factor that could translate into more votes in the caste-sensitive state.

And in what may come as good news for the Opposition, the CLSA report says the entry of Priyanka Gandhi — which has already energised the Congress cadres — may hurt the prospects of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party (SP-BSP) combine and give the BJP a tough fight.

The SP and the BSP have joined hands to corner the Muslim and Dalit votes.

“Though the alliance is a formidable opposition to the BJP, the entry of Priyanka Gandhi can still take away some of SP-BSP vote share. If not formal, at least, an informal alliance with the Congress will be required for the combine to work,” the CLSA report says.

The survey adds that a possible alliance of the SP-BSP with the Congress can turn the tables and limit the gains made by the BJP, preventing a clean sweep of sorts registered by the party in the last general elections.

“We understand that the SP-BSP might tie-up with the Congress, at least informally, which could possibly limit the gains for the BJP,” says the report.

There is also a possibility of disgruntled party workers from the SP and the BSP, after the two joined hands, shifting to the Congress, which might help the BJP.

But CLSA says that cow vigilantism in the state has badly hurt farmer sentiments turning a large section against the ruling party.

Vigilantism has prevented farmers from selling their cattle and the excess cattle are, in turn, destroying farm produce.

The confusion in the state and the emerging political scenario does not portent good for the markets.

The CLSA survey says that in the short term, domestic equity flows will likely reflect these political uncertainties over the next three months, driving the market lower.

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Election

Congress to contest nine seats in Tamil Nadu, one in Puducherry

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Chennai, Feb 20 (IANS) The Congress will contest nine seats in Tamil Nadu and the sole seat in Puducherry in the Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the DMK, DMK President M.K. Stalin announced here on Wednesday.

He was speaking to reporters after the two parties inked the electoral pact at DMK’s headquarters Anna Arivalayam here. Tamil Nadu has 39 Lok Sabha constituencies.

The pact between the two parties was widely expected as Stalin had proposed Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s name for the Prime Minister’s post at a DMK function here in December last year.

Taking a dig at the state’s ruling AIADMK that signed poll pacts with the PMK and the Bharatiya Janata Party at a five star hotel on Tuesday, Stalin said the DMK and the Congress signed their deal in his party headquarters.

According to him, the AIADMK alliance is a “money welfare alliance” and not a “people welfare alliance”.

Queried about the constituencies that Congress would contest in Tamil Nadu, Stalin said talks for alliance are on with several other parties and once the alliance with others are finalised, then the constituencies will be decided.

He said that those parties which have been with DMK for the past two years and participated in its protest programmes will be part of the party’s alliance.

The DMK will contest in all the Lok Sabha constituencies that were not shared with its alliance partners, he added.

The DMK-led alliance is expected include the two communist parties, the VCK and the IUML.

Queried whether the Congress will also support the DMK in the upcoming bypolls for 21 assembly constituencies, he said: “Let the bypolls get announced, then the announcement will be made about Congress party’s support.”

He also said the party’s Lok Sabha poll manifesto is under preparation.

Congress leader K.C. Venugopal said Gandhi gave a clear direction on the alliance talks and for the past two days, DMK and Congress leaders were holding informal talks in Delhi and Chennai.

Claiming that the entire country was disappointed with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, he said the alliance will win all the 40 seats – 39 in Tamil Nadu and one in Puducherry.

Earlier in the day, DMK MP Kanimozhi and Tamil Nadu Congress unit President K.S. Alagiri returned here. They had met Gandhi on Tuesday in Delhi separately.

Speaking to reporters here, Alagiri said the AIADMK-PMK alliance announced on Tuesday is an “opportunistic one”.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress drew a blank as it contested alone in Tamil Nadu while the DMK and its allies also drew blank in the state and Puducherry.

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