Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury’s appointment as leader of Congress in Lok Sabha is sign of things to come
- Jab Mullah ko Masjid mein Ram nazar aayein, jab pujari ko Mandir mein Rehman nazar aayein, duniya ki surat badal jayegi jab insaan ko insaan mein insaan nazar aaye. (When the mullah will see Ram in a mosque; when the pujari will see Rehman in a temple; the nature of the world will change, when humans will see humans in others.)” — With these words, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, the five-time MP from Baharampur, West Bengal, delineated and demarcated the secular line of the Congress party and set the stage for himself as the leader of the principal Opposition party in the 17th Lok Sabha On Wednesday.
- Chowdhury was chosen ahead of party stalwarts like Shashi Tharoor and Manish Tewari who are more sophisticated and at ease with Lutyens’ Delhi’s inner coterie. Chowdhury, in his own words, was stunned when he was given the baton to lead the charge for the grand old party against none other than an almost-invincible Narendra Modi.
- Reacting to the development, political analyst Moidul Islam said, “By appointing Chowdhury to the post, the party leadership has sent out a strong message that it is looking beyond the dynasts and members of the Lutyens’ elite to lead the party. He is a rustic person with an organisational capability that is likely to work for the Congress in an era dominated by Modi, in which ‘kaamdars’ are increasingly getting important positions.”
- Even before Chowdhury was appointed as the leader of the Congress in the Lower House, eyebrows were raised in political circles of Delhi and within the Congress itself when he was chosen along with a few others to represent the party for a crucial all-party meet held ahead of the beginning of the current Lok Sabha’s term. Veteran leaders and former Union ministers were astonished when Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally called Chowdhury after the meeting, patted him on his back and referred to him as a fighter in front of Anand Sharma and Ghulam Nabi Azad. But for Chowdhury, more surprise was in store when he was handed the difficult task of representing the Congress by none other than Sonia Gandhi, after Rahul Gandhi refused to bite the bullet.
- Despite being known as the only Congress strongman in east and North East India after Himanta Biswa Sarma, Chowdhury’s influence had remained confined to the state of Bengal, or more precisely, in the Murshidabad district. In fact, the biggest testimony to his hold over the district lies in the fact that when former president Pranab Mukherjee was uneasy at the prospect of fighting polls and was looking for a safe seat to make it to the Lower House, it was Chowdhury who voluntarily took it upon himself to ensure that the Congress stalwart won from Jangipur in 2004; a feat which he repeated in 2009. It earned him a semblance of respect in Congress circles. During an informal gathering of the party’s Delhi unit some time after the polls, Ajay Maken had introduced Chowdhury to fellow Congress members as the “dada who ensured Pranab Mukherjee’s victory.” However, Chowdhury was never among leaders who ran the show at 10, Akbar Road. In fact, the highest position that the “tiger of Bengal” has occupied till date has been that of a junior minister for railways between 2012 and 2014.
- Born into a Bengali family which had its roots in Chittagong, modern-day Bangladesh, Chowdhury’s first brush with politics started in the 1970s, when Bengal was burning under the scourge of Naxalism. Ironically, Chowdhury’s initial association with politics started with the Left Front, where he was perceived to be close to the Revolutionary Socialist Party, a junior partner in the CPM-led front. In those days, Tridib Chaudhuri, who had won for seven consecutive times from Baharampur on an RSP ticket, took a liking for him. However, despite dabbling in Left politics for a while, Chowdhury couldn’t manage to cut his teeth into state politics and remained a marginal player.
- The 1980s was a time when local clubs wielded unaccounted political power in the semi-urban areas of West Bengal. The ruling Left Front used these clubs to spread its influence, besides using them as the eyes and ears of the government. These clubs played a crucial role in acting as a bridge between the leaders, parties and the electorate through several programmes like blood donation camps, blanket distribution, relief during floods and other natural calamities. Chowdhury was always at the forefront of these initiatives, which helped him earn and cultivate a positive image among the people. “There’s not a single person in Murshidabad district, who has not benefited, or does not have a relative who benefited, from Chowdhury’s work,” asserted Niloy Pramanik, a close aide to the Congress leader. Several others, both from the Congress and outside the party, attest to Pramanik’s statement.