Somen Mitra, West Bengal Congress president, passes away

Published : July 30, 2020 18:41 IST

Somen Mitra. Photo: SUSHANTA PATRONOBISH

West Bengal lost one of its most popular and influential political leaders with the passing of Somendra Nath Mitra, the Pradesh Congress president, in the early hours of July 30. He was 78 years old and is survived by his wife and son. Mitra was suffering from heart- and kidney-related problems.

Affectionately called “chhorda” (a term to denote the youngest of the elder brothers) by his party members and supporters, Mitra’s long and illustrious career stretched over five decades during which, even at its lowest phase, he never lost his popularity among the masses nor his relevance in politics. “There was a time in Bengal when Somen Mitra meant Congress and Congress meant Somen Mitra,” said Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha.

Reacting to the death of her former party colleague, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Saddened to hear about the passing away of veteran leader, former MP and @INCWestBengal president Somen Mitra. My deepest condolences to his family, followers and well-wishers.” Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi posted on Twitter: “All my love and support to family and friends of Somen Mitra at this difficult time. We will remember him with love, fondness and respect.”

Born on December 31, 1941, Mitra first made his mark as a student leader in the Bengal politics of the 1960s. Though he lost in the municipal election in 1969 from a ward in Sealdah, he nevertheless won the Sealdah Assembly seat in 1972. He would go on to win the seat six consecutive times, from 1982 to 2006. He served as the Pradesh Congress Committee president for three terms from 1992 until 1998, and from 2018 until his death. In spite of his electoral successes, it was for his organisational abilities that Mitra was universally hailed. In fact, according to some of the Congress old-timers, Mitra’s skill as a party organiser was considered to be second only to that of the legendary Atulya Ghosh, former Congress MP and member of the Congress Working Committee.

In 2008, Mitra broke away from the Congress and formed his own party, the Pragatishil Indira Congress, which merged with the Trinamool Congress in 2009. In the same year he won the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha seat on the Trinamool ticket. But he did not lose his influence in the Sealdah Assembly constituency, which was evident from his wife Sikha Mitra’s victory in a byelection in 2009. However, Mitra did not complete his stint in the Lok Sabha. He quit the Trinamool Congress and rejoined the Congress after resigning from the Lok Sabha in 2014.

Affable, informal and accessible, Mitra’s popularity was not confined to his party. While many senior leaders of the Congress, including Adhir Chowdhury and Abdul Mannan, Leader of the Opposition in the State Assembly, have hailed him as a mentor of sorts, those who had left the Congress to join other parties also remembered him with affection and respect. Om Prakash Mishra, former Congress leader who is now with the Trinamool, told Frontline: “He was a pillar of strength for the opposition against the Left Front. I had the opportunity to work with him in various positions from the mid-1990s. He was encouraging and had an amicable disposition. I deeply condole with his family on his unfortunate demise.”

Abdul Mannan said Mitra was like an elder brother to him. “I have not seen too many leaders who were as loved by party workers as Somen da was. He upheld the old tradition of the Congress in his behavior and dealings…. With his death, we have lost a pillar of the party, and that too at a time when his presence would have been most needed,” said Mannan.

With the Assembly elections in West Bengal due less than 10 months away, and the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front trying to forge an electoral understanding against both the ruling Trinamool and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mitra’s pragmatic approach and organisational abilities will be particularly missed. He was one of the chief architects of the Left-Congress “electoral understanding” to take on the Trinamool and the BJP in the coming elections. Expressing sorrow at Mitra’s demise, Biman Bose, CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, said: “His death is a major loss in the present political scenario…. He was needed to build up a united stand against the Trinamool and the BJP.”

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