Can Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury Anchor a ‘Rudderless’ Congress Party?

Does Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, whom the Congress has appointed in the Lok Sabha, still have both power & pelf?

4 min read
Hindi Female

Political analysts, commentators and scholars of a certain vintage are reliving a certain day in 1995, when former President of India, Pranab Mukherjee, at that time President of the SAARC Council of Ministers Conference, was visiting a nondescript village in Bengal’s Murshidabad district, a Congress stronghold, to launch a Model Village programme.

A stage had been set up in a playground. In attendance was a smattering of senior SAARC and Government of India bureaucrats, Mukherjee, and Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, aka the ‘Robinhood of Murshidabad’, an area known for its 70 percent Muslim and backward community voters.

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Adhir Ranjan’s ‘Dazzling’ Stage Presence & Persona

The mood was indifferent; people were more interested in the snacks and toys being sold on the periphery rather than in the jargon being thrown at them by a slice of Lutyens’ Delhi, air dropped by the party’s head office.

The atmosphere changed the minute Chowdhury took the stage. Dressed in dazzling white, flared trousers, a tight shirt unbuttoned à la Jeetendra, an over-sized gold watch – Chowdhury, a formidable public speaker, simply reminded his people that Pranab Mukherjee could have taken the project to any part of the country or neighbouring countries, “but he chose this village, he chose you,” he said dramatically.

The electrifying introduction brought on a deluge of applause. It was a telling commentary on what had made the five-time Congress MP and now its chosen leader in Lok Sabha, such a formidable political presence in Bengal.

Adhir Ranjan Has More Grass In His Roots Than His Peers

Reams are being written about the Congress’s decision to put the five-time MP from Bengal in charge in the Lok Sabha, where it couldn’t even garner 10 percent vote share. The bottom line however is this: Chowdhury is everything that Rahul Gandhi is not. Or for that matter, Shashi Tharoor, who had both hands in the air for a chance to prove himself, again.

A school dropout, who joined politics at the age of fifteen, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has more grass in his roots than any of his peers, who will now be a part of the Congress parliamentary party.

Neither does Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury carry the burden of family legacy. What he has is tenacity and motivation. It takes special talent to keep oneself going when your party is falling apart like a pack of cards all around you. Even in the run up to this year’s elections, ground reporters had predicted a three-way fight between Chowdhury, Trinamool, and the BJP. Chowdhury proved his detractors wrong by defeating the TMC candidate by a handsome margin of votes.


Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury Has Both Power & Pelf To Achieve The Impossible

Life has come a full circle for the man who is known to have the power and pelf to achieve the impossible. From his turf in Murshidabad – once the richest Mughal province known for its exquisite silks, majestic palaces and home to revolutionaries, social reformers, writers and artistes – Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury has held his own during changing political regimes – the Left, the TMC, and now the BJP.

Even in 2001, when the Congress decided to align with the TMC, Chowdhury defied party leaders and set up his own candidates to defeat the ill-fated alliance.

His professional rivalry with Mamata Banerjee is the stuff of legend. And it continued right through the elections this time, when he did not hesitate to call Mamata out on all important strategic and policy matters.

Chowdhury is also known for his organisational ability and tremendous pull over his electorate.

There was a time in fact, in 2004, when he was named in a case of double murders during the Left Front tenure – his supporters had brought the city to a standstill. Those were the days when the Congress had the energy and the cadre strength to pull off political protests of consequence.


Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury: No Stranger To Controversy

Bengal may have moved away from the Congress, but Chowdhury’s fans have remained loyal to him. The reactions to his appointment range from genuine happiness, a sense of pride (he had at some point acquired the title of ‘Bengal Tiger’), to surprise.

Chowdhury is not a stranger to controversies and personal tragedies – his first wife Atasi had a much publicized public separation and accused him of adultery, before expressing a desire to join his rival political party.

Chowdhury’s teenaged daughter had suffered a fatal fall from a Kolkata high-rise. He was reportedly chased by 300 goons of the Communist party during one of the elections and was locked up in a room. He also endeared himself to the Congress heavyweights of a certain era for his expertise in crowd management and booth control. Euphemisms for a strongman – but with a golden heart – as his fans will remind you.

Challenges Ahead For Chowdhury

Chowdhury has the unenviable task of representing a party that is pretty much rudderless at the moment. Back-to-back defeats, infighting, and the near collapse of its various coalition governments have kept other leaders on their toes. Chowdhury, in that respect, comes baggage-free.

Behrampur, in Murshidabad, from where Chowdhury fights his adversaries, may be the Congress’s own Gaulish Village, and Chowdhury, its Asterix. (Pun intended.) But it is one thing to defend your little village from the Romans, and another, to take on the Romans in their arena.

(Chandrima Pal is an author and senior journalist. She tweets @captainblubear . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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