Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi passes away

Senior Congress leader, West Bengal Congress’ former president and former Union Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, died at a hospital in Delhi today. On October 12, 2008, Mr. Dasmunsi fell into a coma after suffering a stroke. He was critically ill over last couple of months, and died past midday on Monday, in presence of his wife Deepa Dasmunsi, a Congress politician, and their son. He was 72.

As president of the All India Football Federation, Mr. Dasmunshi sought to bring a professional approach to the sport. The National Football League, which introduced Indian clubs to a semi-professional system in 1996, was considered one of his biggest contributions. He served as the match commissioner in the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, former president Pranab Mukherjee, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Congress President Sonia Gandhi were among the many to express grief at Mr Dasmunsi’s death. Ms. Gandhi’s described his passing as an irreparable loss to the party.

Mr. Dasmunsi — fondly called Priyada — entered Parliament from the constituency of South Kolkata in his mid-20s. But even before that, he was considered a major star in Bengal politics. He became a member of the All India Congress Committee [AICC] and, simultaneously, the chief of Congress’ youth wing in the State, Chhatra Parishad, in 1970.

But Mr. Dasmunsi opposed the Congress in 1978. He protested against the Emergency and Sanjay Gandhi’s brand of politics. Later, however, he returned to the Congress in 1982 and emerged as one of the key leaders of the party, inside and outside Parliament. In 1999, he steered the Congress party in the Parliament as the Chief Whip.

Congress leaders — both in Delhi and West Bengal — unanimously said that Sonia Gandhi “remembered Priyada’s silent support” in Parliament, when Congress was perhaps at its nadir in decades. When the Congress came back to power in 2004, after a hiatus of five years, Mr. Dasmunsi was rewarded with two key portfolios — Information and Broadcasting, and Parliamentary Affairs.

He began his political career in a college in Raiganj in north Bengal, close to his ancestral home in Dinjapur in Bangladesh, as a student leader with a prominent Leftist party of the State. But in about a year’s time — around 1962 — Mr. Dasmunsi joined the Congress and, in nine years, went to the Parliament. The fast rise of Mr. Dasmunsi, in Bengal and in national politics, is often credited to the all-powerful first generation Bengal Congress leader after Independence, Atulya Ghosh, who “identified the young man as he had heard him speaking in a student meeting sometime in the mid-1960s,” said one of his college friends.

In 1971, he was elected as the president of All India Youth Congress. Former president of the State unit of the Bengal Congress, Somendranath Mitra said that many of today’s leaders in the State and the Centre were “brought up” by Mr. Dasmunsi. “When he became the president of the State Congress’student’s wing, he made me the chief of the wing in central Kolkata,” said Mr. Mitra. Mr. Dasmunsi is said to have had “his personal cadres” in all the Assembly constituencies of the State — 280 in 1971 — which is often described as a key reason for his success in student as well as State politics.

“Even if it was Siddhartha Sankar Roy, the former Chief Minister, at the helm of affairs in the State, in the 1972 Assembly election, it was the 27-year-old Dasmunsi who virtually decided the list of candidates on the basis of his grassroot-level network and understanding of Bengal politics,” said another Congress leader. Mr. Dasmunsi handed over the list to the late former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and played a key role in steering the party in 1972. However, there were allegations of severe malpractices in the 1972 election.

“It was an exaggeration by the Left-led Opposition. There were some disturbances, as it used to be in those days, unlike now, but it was nowhere close to what Left often says,” said Mr. Dasmunsi in an interview to this correspondent in 2004.

Senior Minister in the Trinamool Congress (TMC) cabinet Subrata Mukherjee acknowledged on Monday that 1972 victory — a crucial one for Congress in the State — was largely owing to Mr. Dasmunshi’s capacity to mobilise cadres. “It was because of him that the Left-led United Front lost power, and S.S. Ray became Chief Minister,” Mr. Mukherjee said.

One of the State Congress’ General Secretaries provided another interesting anecdote indicating Priyada’s political acumen: “I was given responsibility of Mizoram to accrue the vote for Pratibha Patil as the Presidential candidate in 2007, when Priyada was the Retuning Officer. Though it was a non-Congress regional formation in the State, hostile to Congress, Priyada told me to talk to them, which I did, and eventually got the vote for our candidate,” said Congress leader Omprakash Mishra.

Following his victory in 1984 Lok Sabha election from Howrah, the late former PM Rajiv Gandhi inducted Mr. Dasmunsi in his Council of Ministers. Eventually, Mr. Dasmunsi became the president of the party in the State, but Congress lost badly in 1989. He was defeated again in 1991 but wen to win in 1996 from Howrah. In 1999 and 2004, he won from Raiganj, where he started his politics.

On Tuesday his body will be flown from Kolkata to his former constituency, Raiganj, for the last rites.

(With Amitabha Das Sharma)

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 5:15:59 PM |

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