Senior Congress leader and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee resigned as chief of party's West Bengal unit on Sunday citing "heavy government responsibilities", and Congress Legislature Party leader Manas Ranjan Bhunia was appointed to the post by Sonia Gandhi.
The appointment of Bhunia, a close associate of Mukherjee, comes after the Congress' poor performance in the recent local body elections where ally Trinamool Congress emerged as the biggest gainer after contesting on its own.
Mukherjee, 75, who has held the post for the last nine years, had been for quite sometime impressing upon the leadership to have a "full-time" president in view of the assembly polls next year. He again pressed for it after the local body elections.
"Subsequent upon the decision of Pranab Mukherjee to resign from the post of president of West Bengal Pradesh Congress Committee due to his heavy responsibilities in the government, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has accepted the proposal for appointing Manas Ranjan Bhunia," party general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said.
Bhunia's appointment as a new president of WBPCC will be with immediate effect, he said.
Bhunia, who is CLP leader, said as WBPCC chief he would work hard to strengthen the party in the state and its alliance with the Trinamool Congress.
Congress insiders said that the job is cut out for Bhunia, with a section insisting that an alliance with the Trinamool should only on "honourable terms".
"I will try my level best to make the party strong in Bengal. If the party is weak, our alliance with Trinamool Congress will also get weakened. So we have to make both the party and the alliance much stronger to oust Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front from power," Bhunia said.
The announcement comes a day after Mukherjee held long parleys over dinner with Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee.
In a guarded reaction to the change of guard in the West Bengal Congress, the Trinamool Congress said it was an internal matter of the Congress.
"It is the decision of the Congress to appoint Bhunia as the president of the state party," Trinamool leader Partha Chatterjee said.
The name of Pradip Bhattacharya, another close associate of Mukherjee who is also the working president of West Bengal Congress, was also doing rounds, but the high command chose Bhunia for the post.
"I congratulate him (Bhunia) and assure him that he will get all co-operation from me in the running of the party," Bhattacharya said.
"Inspite of so many odds I have never left the party. And I will continue to remain in the party," he said.Bhunia, who will be meeting Gandhi and other leaders here tomorrow, thanked the Congress president and senior leaders including Mukherjee whom he described as the party's guardian in West Bengal, and said it was a big responsibility entrusted on him.