Kolkata: Strengthening the Congress, which has been plagued by desertions and factional feuds in West Bengal, is top priority for the party`s new state chief Manas Bhunia. He says forging an alliance with the Trinamool Congress for next year`s assembly polls comes only later.
"As state Congress president, strengthening my party at the grassroots is my first agenda so that it can regain its lost position of pride in West Bengal and play a big role in freeing people from the misrule and oppression of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)," he said.
"The issue of forging an alliance with the Trinamool Congress (during next year`s assembly polls) to oust the CPI-M from power comes only after that," Bhunia said in an interview.
However, he made it clear that the Congress was in favour of tying up with the Trinamool for the assembly polls. "We have to defeat the CPI-M-led Left Front which is possible only if the opposition gets united," he said.
Bhunia, 58, a physician, was appointed as Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president on June 27, succeeding union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. Bhunia has assumed charge of West Bengal Congress at a time when the party is going through hard times. Its alliance with the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool was jeopardised just before the civic polls in May.
In Kolkata Municipal Corporation alone, the Trinamool bagged over two-thirds of the seats. With the Trinamool`s performance improving with every election in the last two years, a large chunk of Congress workers and leaders, including former state working president Subrata Mukherjee and legislator Sabitri Mitra, have joined Mamata`s party. Earlier, Congress heavyweights like former state party chief Somen Mitra quit and joined the Trinamool.
Asked how he planned to check the desertions from Congress ranks, Bhunia said: "It`s a democratic country. There has to be some political decorum. Congress always observes this political decorum. But I cannot give lessons to anyone on political decorum. I can only hope that others will also observe such decorum."
But Bhunia categorically ruled out any impact of incidents like the attack on Congress teams twice allegedly by Trianmool activists at Khejuri in East Midnapore district.
"This is a negligible incident. It will have no bearing on the electoral alliance between the two parties, which is a very big issue," he said.
Asked whether he would prefer a coordination mechanism between the two parties at the state level to sort out thorny issues, Bhunia said: "Had there been no coordination mechanism, do you think we could have got into an electoral alliance for the Durgapur assembly by-poll seat recently?"
"But yes, we don`t have a permanent coordination mechanism. It is need-based," said Bhunia, who hails from Sabong in Maoist-affected West Midnapore district.
But apart from the vexed issue of an alliance with the Trinamool, all does not appear well in the state Congress. A section of district leaders has resented their removal during a recent re-shuffle of party office-bearers. But Bhunia saw nothing wrong in it.
"Our party is a democratic party and I am happy that a few leaders have expressed their anger over the reshuffle. I will try my best to make them happy. The reshuffle was not done to remove someone but to make way for new leaders. The leaders who have been replaced will be given new responsibilities," said Bhunia, who did his MBBS from the reputed Nilratan Sircar Medical College.
Quizzed about the contrary stands of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the Trinamool Congress in dealing with the Maoist problem in Bengal, the state Congress chief said the joint forces have been sent by the central government at the request of the state government to flush out the rebels.
"What the central government did is a constitutional requirement. And as per the constitution the central forces are under the command of the state government. But the state government is not using the joint forces properly. They are misusing the joint forces," he added.