Kolkata: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee reshuffled her Council of Ministers Wednesday in what appeared to be an attempt for an image makeover of her government, which took a hit after the arrest of former commerce and education minister Partha Chatterjee in the alleged School Service Commission (SSC) scam.
She inducted eight ministers — five cabinet ministers, one minister of state (MoS) with independent charge, and two MoSes — and dropped four. Among those axed was Minister of State for Education Paresh Adhikari, who is being investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the alleged SSC scam.
The chief minister had earlier said she would be going for a reshuffle because of the vacancies caused by the demise of Subrata Mukherjee and Sadhan Pande, and the imprisonment of Chatterjee.
The reshuffle comes just over one year after Mamata secured a thumping mandate for a third consecutive term in Bengal. The state is headed for panchayat elections in 2023.
The new ministers who took oath at Raj Bhavan include former Union minister Babul Supriyo, and Partha Bhowmik, Udayan Guha, Snehashish Chakrabarty, Pradip Majumdar, Biplab Roy Chowdhury, Satyajit Barman and Tajmul Hossain.
“Mamata is clearly trying to project a clean image with the reshuffle as the new ministers have no corruption allegations,” said Udayan Bandhopadhyay, political science professor at Bangabasi College, Kolkata. “The Trinamool has been on the backfoot since the alleged SSC scam probe. Hence, it was the right time to change the cabinet.”
Mamata sacked Chatterjee on 28 July after the ED arrested him for his alleged involvement in the irregular appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff in state government-run schools during his tenure as education minister. She had taken additional charge of the portfolios that were with Chatterjee.
“Mamata tried overcoming the scam situation at hand. This is one form of handling the situation by shaking up the cabinet,” said political analyst and author Jayanta Ghosal.
“She is trying to correct the fault lines — something Indira Gandhi used to do under her regime.”
Key faces who made the cut
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief seems to have rewarded performers and banked on experience while selecting the candidates. Some of the new faces are also known to be close to her nephew and TMC national general secretary Abhishek Banerjee.
“This is also a slow transition to Abhishek-style of working. Those who have proven ability will be promoted. But surely they were made ministers only with Mamata’s consent,” said Ghosal.
Giving details of how “performers were rewarded”, a Trinamool insider told ThePrint: “Partha Bhowmik was once a Mukul Roy loyalist. He was also asked by Roy to join the BJP. But he declined the offer and remained with the Trinamool.
“He led the Trinamool Youth Congress in North 24 Parganas, which was once under Abhishek himself. Bhowmik, like a true soldier, fought against the BJP and defeated the rise of Arjun Singh and the BJP. Today’s ministerial berth is his reward.”
Bhowmik not only retained his seat in 2021 but also ensured that that the BJP’s influence was restricted in the stronghold of Barrackpore MP Arjun Singh, who has now returned to the TMC from the BJP. The three-time MLA from Naihati was given the charge of irrigation and waterways, which was earlier with Soumen Mahapatra.
Babul Supriyo, who joined the Trinamool in September 2021 months after he lost his portfolio in the Modi government reshuffle, has been made the IT and Tourism Minister.
“I will work even more for my party TMC. Even the BJP couldn’t accuse me of any wrongdoing. I am committed and will work for Bengal under Mamata’s leadership,” Supriyo said after taking oath at the Raj Bhavan.
Political analyst Bandhopadhyay said the TMC was sending the wrong message by inducting Supriyo.
“Unfortunately, a man who raised anti-Mamata slogans and fought against the Trinamool just last year will be sitting at the state secretariat. Supriyo’s induction reflects a poor ideology which the TMC is working towards. A veteran leader like Tapas Roy was ignored and a former BJP leader is now Mamata’s minister,” he added.
But, the recognition for Udayan Guha, who was given the responsibility of developing North Bengal, was applauded by political analysts.
“Udayan Guha yielded positive results for the party in 2021. His father Kamal Guha was a minister in the erstwhile Jyoti Basu government and known to be the Left’s man in North Bengal. He has a clean image,” said Ghosal, the author of Mamata: Beyond 2021.
“The responsibility which Jyoti Basu entrusted to the father has now been handed to the son by Mamata. He is ideal to lead the party in North Bengal, which is under special focus for the Trinamool.”
Another fresh face, Pradip Majumdar, a former civil servant who was earlier the adviser to the CM on agriculture for almost eight years, will now handle the department of panchayat and rural development — which was handled by Subrata Mukherjee.
Trinamool MLA Snehashish Chakraborty, the party’s spokesperson and in-charge of the Hooghly district unit, was given charge of the transport department.
Those who lost out
Women and Child Development Minister Dr Sashi Panja has been given charge of the commerce and industry department, which was handled by Chatterjee. Satyajit Barman was inducted as MoS, school education. Cabinet minister Firhad Hakim was divested of the housing portfolio, which was given to senior minister Aroop Biswas, who is also handing youth affairs.
Apart from Adhikari, those axed from the Council of Ministers are Humayun Kabir, Soumen Mahapatra, and Ratna De Nag.
The department of skill development has been taken from Kabir, a former IPS officer who took voluntary retirement to fight the 2021 assembly elections, and given to culture minister Indranil Sen.
Nag, who was the environment minister and also handled the science, technology and biotechnology portfolio, has lost both. Jail minister Ujjwal Biswas has been given the charge of science, technology and biotechnology, and the environment department given to Consumer Affairs Minister Manas Bhuiyan.