Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today inducted eight new MLAs in her Cabinet, including two Congress leaders who recently defected to the Trinamool Congress, and changed the portfolios of at least seven ministers.
The ministerial reshuffle was aimed at strengthening the Trinamool in rural areas ahead of the panchayat elections and to check infighting in the party in some districts.
Agriculture minister Rabindranath Bhattacharjee, law minister Malay Ghatak and tourism minister Rachpal Singh were removed from their posts while Sunderban affairs minister Shyamal Mondal was dropped from the Cabinet.
The ex-Congress MLAs — Humayun Kabir from Rejinagar in Congress stronghold Murshidabad and Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury from Englishbazar in Malda, also a Congress stronghold — were sworn in as ministers along with six other Trinamool MLAs — Rajib Banerjee (Domjur in Howrah), Swapan Debnath (Purbasthali in South Burdwan), Pundarikakshya Saha (Nabadwip in Nadia), Giasuddin Mollah (Mograhat West in South 24-Parganas), Becharam Manna (Haripal in Hooghly) and Manturam Pakira (Kakdwip in South 24-Parganas).
Sources said Mamata removed Bhattacharjee because she was unhappy with the performance of the agriculture minister, and brought Ghatak in his place. Chandrima Bhattacharya, who was minister of health, has been given independent charge of the law and judicial department.
Rajib Banerjee was appointed irrigation minister while Krishnendu was made tourism minister in place of Rachpal. The only Sikh face in the Cabinet, Rachpal was made minister of the relatively insignificant planning and development department.
Manturam was appointed Sunderban affairs minister while Swapan was made MoS of micro and small scale industry. Saha and Kabir were given MoS portfolios in public health engineering and animal resource development departments, respectively. Manna was made MoS of agriculture and child development while Mollah was made MoS of minority affairs.
Political observers feel that by reshuffling her ministry, the Chief Minister aims to kill many birds with the same stone. The induction of Kabir and Krishnendu is the beginning of a new tussle between the Trinamool and Congress in the latter’s strongholds of Murshidabad and Malda. The two MLAs have now been asked to start reorganising the party in their respective districts. By inducting them in the ministry, Mamata has virtually thrown a challenge to the Congress leaders who have been criticising her on a wide range of issues.
On the other hand, the induction of Becharam Manna — dubbed as the architect of Singur movement — in the ministry sends a message to the farmers of Singur that Mamata has not forgotten them.
Rajib is now the youngest minister in the Cabinet. The CM is believed to have decided to induct Rajib to pave the way for youths to take up more responsibility.
Sources said the CM was not satisfied with Sunderban development minister Shyamal and was looking for an alternative. She replaced him with Manturam. Debnath was inducted to strike a balance in Burdwan district, where the party is reeling under factional feuds. Two Trinamool ministers from Burdwan have been at loggerheads ever since the party came to power. By elevating Debnath, the party is believed to have sent a strong message against both the ministers.
In order to strengthen the minority vote bank, the CM inducted two MLAs from the minority community — Mollah and Kabir — in her ministry. Now there are seven MLAs from the Muslim community in the ministry. By inducting Pundarikakshya, Mamata aims to strengthen the party in the rural belt of Nadia.
Four Ministers of State (MoS) — Arup Biswas, Madan Mitra, Subrata Saha and Monjulkrishna Thakur — were made Cabinet ministers.