State Scan: Trinamool Congress gets a tribal jolt in West Bengal

West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee at an event in Kalimpong recently. She has removed three ministers from her cabinet and lightened the portfolio of two others | Photo: Twitter
The Trinamool Congress (TMC), while it pursues forming a front at the national level to take on the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections, has to first fight the saffron party on its own turf in West Bengal, where the BJP has put up an impressive showing in the tribal regions in the 2018 panchayat elections.

As a consequence of this, TMC chief and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee removed three of her ministers from the Cabinet while lightening the portfolios of two others and vesting more powers with another two.

Banerjee has said changes have been made to increase the three former ministers’ “concentration on the party’s work”.

James Kujur, who held the tribal development portfolio, and Churamani Mahato, minister for backward classes welfare, have been shown the door while Banerjee herself has taken charge of the tribal development ministry.

Chandrima Bhattacharya, who has been a junior minister in the health department, was promoted to minister of state. Rajib Banerjee, who was irrigation minister, has got the backward classes welfare portfolio while Soumen Kumar Mahapatra has got irrigation.

Abani Mohan Joardar, who has been minister without portfolio, was also dropped supposedly for health reasons.

Subrata Mukherjee, who held the portfolios of panchayat and rural development ministry and public health engineering (PHE), will now head only the former. The PHE portfolio has been handed over to Moloy Ghatak, the state’s labour minister.
Sovan Chatterjee, mayor of Kolkata, has lost the environment portfolio, which has been given to the state’s transport minister, Suvendu Adhikari.

Trinamool workers say the chief minister herself assuming charge of the tribal development portfolio is a signal of her intention to mend the TMC’s image among the tribals.

On the other hand, after Mukul Roy, earlier termed the TMC’s Chanakya, switched allegiance to the BJP, this party has been able to prove itself as the main opposition party despite its poor seat count in the Assembly.

In Purulia district, the BJP won 633 gram panchayat seats while the TMC bagged 780, and in Jhargram, the BJP secured 325 as against 370 of the TMC.

While its 22 workers were killed in the elections, the BJP did well in Bankura, West Midnapore, Jalpaiguri and Maldah, and in most of the other districts, the BJP emerged second, just after the TMC. The Congress or the Left Front had put up an extremely dismal showing.

Mahato, who is from Jhargram, admitted that the BJP had made unexpected inroads into his constituency.

Sources suggested that the dismissals of Mahato and Kujur, who are from constituencies where the rise of the BJP went unnoticed, are an indication from Banerjee that this party has to be stopped and the TMC has to regain political control.

Chandra Kumar Bose, vice-president of the BJP in West Bengal and great-nephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, has blamed the chief minister for the TMC’s poor showing in the tribal belt and alleged that Mahato and Kujur are nothing more than scapegoats.

“The TMC is a one-woman show and the power and control over all ministries lie with her despite the government having various ministers. The problem in such an autocratic set-up is that she can neither micro-manage, nor can she have the knowledge about everything happening around,” he said, adding that it was “high time for Banerjee to start delegating responsibilities to people who deserve them”.

Biswanath Chakraborty, professor at Rabindra Bharati University, is of the view that while Mahato and Kujur were made responsible for the TMC’s poor showing in the tribal belts, Abhishek Banerjee, the chief minister’s niece, was “practically let off”.

Abhishek Banerjee, the party’s national president of the youth wing, has climbed the ladder quickly and had been campaigning for the party in the rural heartland of West Bengal, including the tribal regions where the TMC’s performance has been questionable.

“It is basically dynastic politics the chief minister is playing and she has realised that it is time to establish her nephew in the party as its next leader,” Chakraborty said.

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