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Why Mamata Banerjee is rejigging her cabinet ahead of 2019 polls

The TMC leader has sacked senior leaders in the hope of curbing the rising saffron surge in West Bengal.

 |  3-minute read |   13-06-2018
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Three ministers lost their posts and three heavyweight ministers were stripped off their portfolios recently. The reason: they were not active enough to help Mamata Banerjee have an Opposition-free three-tier panchayat. Whereas ministers, who fulfiled her expectations, were awarded additional responsibilities in terms of additional departments. This has been more or less the custom and convention of Mamata Banerjee’s cabinet.

The ministers shown the boot were James Kujur, in-charge of the tribal welfare department, and Chudamoni Mahato, handling the backward classes welfare department. Mahato, from Gopiballavpur constituency in Jhargram, was held responsible for helping the saffron party increase its vote share in tribal areas.

The BJP, for the first time, increased its vote share in Jhargram to 42 per cent as against 48 per cent of the Trinamool Congress. For the first time, the party wrested village council seats in west Midnapore and Purulia, an area which had erstwhile been the committed vote-bank of the Left before Trinamool won the support and sympathy of the tribals in 2011.

It needs no guessing how the change happened. The Maoist movement in Lalgarh, the camaraderie between the Trinamool Congress leaders and the people, who were the frontal face of the movement — all were factors that helped Trinamool change the tide.

To ensure the change was permanent and everlasting, Banerjee got into the root problem as to why the Left lost and consequently, the Maoists gained confidence of the tribals. She showered the backward areas with social welfare schemes and subsidised ration. Things went well for the first term, but what Banerjee failed to understand was that change is the only constant in life.

It was not just enough for the tribals to be fed. They wanted work, employment, accessibility to the doles the government promised and, above all, the dignity of living. “While we toiled to get the benefits of housing, toilet, water and other facilities, our leaders amassed wealth and property,” said Dinu Soren of Jhargram.

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While discontent brewed among the tribals against their leaders, the party in power remained oblivious to their demands. Banerjee was rattled as to why her policies failed in the tribal belt, despite having toured Jangalmahal areas so extensively. She, in the end, failed to understand the tribals.

So now, the easiest way to find a way out of the problem was to find a scapegoat. And she found one in Chudamoni Mahato, the minister in charge of the backward classes welfare department. Mahato, being close to Mukul Roy, the Trinamool Congress rebel who joined the BJP last November, perfectly fitted the bill.

Rumours of sabotage were in the air, and it was convenient for the ruling party to circulate the rumours rather than accept its mistakes. The same thing happened with Kujur from Alipurduar, another area which was beginning to show saffron shoots. Kujur was minister of tribal welfare, so naturally, he became the obvious target for the growing grievances of the tribals against the distribution of doles and welfare largesse.

A large section of tribals of the Jalpaiguri-Alipurduar area in 2014 had supported the BJP and having observed the trend, the Trinamool Congress was sitting on it, hoping this too shall pass by winning over a section of the Adivasis with power, position and obviously money. This made the divide wider, far more obvious, resulting in the growth of the BJP in the areas.

Banerjee has now kept the tribal welfare department with her, and given the backward classes welfare department to Rajiv Banerjee. It’s a demotion for him, a punishment for allowing an independent candidate win a zilla parishad seat.

Meanwhile, two veteran Trinamool Congress leaders have lost their prestigious departments. Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee and Kolkata mayor Sovon Chatterjee, who held three departments under him, were blamed for being inactive during the panchayat polls.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also read: Why Modi government has been a disappointment

Writer

Romita Datta Romita Datta

The writer is Associate Editor, India Today.

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