West Bengal Congress president Somen Mitra passed away at a Kolkata hospital in the wee hours of Thursday. He was 78.
Mitra passed away around 1.30 am after suffering a cardiac arrest, the hospital sources said, adding he had tested negative for novel coronavirus.
"He was admitted to the hospital a few days back after his creatinine level was found to be high during a routine check-up. He was a patient of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and also had other age-related ailments," a senior official of the hospital told news agency PTI.
He is survived by his wife and son. A few years ago, the veteran politician had undergone bypass surgery.
The state's Congress chief will be remembered as a key strategist, who, however, was unable to prevent a split in his party, which resulted in the creation of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the fall of the Congress as a political power in Bengal.
Notably, in the late 90's, during Mitra's second term as the party president, Congress was forced to relinquish its standing as the main opposition to the then powerful Left Front regime to the TMC.
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee expressed her grief over the leader's demise."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," Banerjee wrote on Twitter.
A VETERAN OF BENGAL POLITICS
A veteran in the state's politics, Mitra's political career lasted for more than fifty years and started during the 60's when he was a student leader.
Groomed by Congress loyalists like A B A Ghani Khan Chowdhury, Mitra became the youngest MLA in the state assembly in 1972 from the Sealdah seat. He was just 26.
Except in 1977, Mitra continued to win the Sealdah assembly segment, which stopped existing after delimitation, from 1982-2006.
Fondly known as Chhorada' (younger brother), Mitra was viewed as one of the revolutionary politicians of the 1960s and '70s era and played a vital role in the fight against the Naxals in Kolkata.
Mitra, who went on to become three-time president of the Congress' West Bengal unit from 1992-1996, 1996-1998 and then again from September 2018, was instrumental in the party securing 82 seats against the Left Front in the 1996 assembly elections.
However, with Congress and the Left Front joining hands at the Centre to back the United Front government, its credibility as the main opposition to the CPI(M) in Bengal was lost.
It was then that Mamata Banerjee, who was the West Bengal Youth Congress president at the time, began emerging as the principal opposition force who had a tough approach against the Left Front.
Mitra and Banerjee got embroiled in an inner-party tussle within the Bengal Congress unit. The relations between the two soured when Banerjee positioned herself against Mitra for the post of state Congress president.
Mitra, a stalwart of Congress politics, was able to secure a victory in the internal party election by 22 votes, after which unprecedented scenes unfolded at the Maharashtra Niwas in South Kolkata.
It is claimed that he along with the then Congress national president Sitaram Kesari cornered Banerjee in the party, after which she broke away to form the Trinamool Congress in 1998.
With the TMC siding with the BJP and replacing Congress as the principal opposition of the Left Front in Bengal by securing seven seats in the 1998 parliamentary polls, Mitra stepped down as state Congress president.
He left the Congress in 2008 and launched his political outfit Pragatisheel (Progressive) Indira Congress.
However, Mitra merged his outfit with the Banerjee's TMC before the 2009 Lok Sabha polls and won the election on a TMC ticket from the Diamond Harbour parliamentary seat.
But in another turn of events, Mitra left the TMC in 2014 after differences with Banerjee cropped up and rejoined Congress.
Bruised heavily by constant infighting and defections to the TMC, Mitra was again made Congress president in 2018, to resuscitate the party.
He was one of the chief strategists behind the CPI (M)-led Left Front and Congress alliance in West Bengal during the 2016 assembly elections.
Mitra was inclined on an alliance with the Left during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, but after the talks did not materialise and both the parties faced a drubbing, he played a pivotal role in bringing them together after the elections.
Mitra, along with Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, was a staunch voice against any form of alliance with the TMC in Bengal.
(With PTI inputs)