In an apparent bid to iron out differences within the West Bengal unit of the party and shake it up for a possible tie-up with the Trinamool Congress, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee allowed the reins of the Pradesh Congress Committee to be handed over to trusted lieutenant and Congress Legislature Party chief in the Assembly Manas Ranjan Bhunia.
Party president Sonia Gandhi effected the change on Sunday. She accepted Mr. Mukherjee's proposal to resign “due to heavy responsibilities in the government” and “for appointing” Dr. Bhunia as the new president of the Pradesh Congress Committee.
Mr. Mukherjee had called on Ms. Gandhi soon after the party's debacle in the municipal elections and offered to resign, stressing that continuing the temporary arrangement was no longer tenable, and that the party needed a full time leader at the State-level.
The Minister had been appointed as the stopgap chief after Priya Ranjan Dash Munshi fell ill in 2001. Interestingly, the change was effected during Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's four-day visit to Delhi and after her dinner with Mr. Mukherjee on Saturday, which was also a political stock-taking occasion.
Mr. Mukherjee indeed had little time for West Bengal politics. Even though he campaigned during the municipal elections, the party's showing was far from desirable primarily because of differences within the party over a tie-up with the Trinamool.
Congress leaders maintain that Mr. Mukherjee, by giving up the post, has also distanced himself from the squabbles within the party and will now be able to intervene in the matter as a leader. It is now Dr. Bhunia's responsibility to take action and shake up the party. Party leaders also contend that even though the Trinamool would want an alliance for the Assembly elections next year, the Congress too had few options given its dwindling fortunes. The move may also be a thanksgiving from the Congress for the Trinamool's indirect support during the recent fuel price hike.