Team Mamata

Written by Sudipta Datta | Updated: May 23 2011, 07:30am hrs
Round One to Mamata Banerjee. After Bengal voted for change, giving her party, the Trinamool Congress, 227 of 294 seats, Mamata hasnt put a foot wrong. She is not on talking terms with outgoing chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya but Mamata sent Partha Chatterjee, her trusted leader of the Opposition till now, to Buddhadebs home at Palm Avenue to invite him. Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, on his part, didnt decline the invitation and was present at the swearing-inMamata Banerjee, of course, had boycotted both the 2001 and 2006 Left Front governments swearing-in ceremonies. The graciousness on the part of the Left will do it good, because the public sympathy is with Mamata Banerjee, and the Left must have grasped it. But, of course, these are early days and there are apprehensions about how she is going to run Bengal, which is beset with many problemsfrom the Maoist flareup in the south to the Gorkhaland agitation in the north, a dying industry, falling productivity in agriculture, lack of infrastructure, and, of course, a slothful work ethic. But right from choosing her candidatesand there was a lot of resentment within her partywriting down the manifesto (again a pleasant surprise, going by even its 2009 manifesto, which was a poor copy of the Lefts), managing the alliance with the Congress and picking her team, she has shown a lot of good sense. Will that help her deliver Only time can tell.

In her team of 34 ministers are a host of professionals led by economist and former Ficci secretary-general Amit Mitra, former chief secretary Manish Gupta, former IPS officers Hyder Aziz Safwi, Upendranath Biswas and Rachpal Singh, doctors like Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar and academics like Rabiranjan Chattopadhyay and Rabindranath Bhattacharya. Before the polls, she had promised a small ministry, but having got an overwhelming mandate, she had to accommodate a whole lot of sections, and her loyalists too. For instance, she decided to give berths to all the giant killersAmit Mitra, who defeated former finance minister Asim Dasgupta; theatre person and first-time entrant into politics Bratya Basu who showed the door to housing minister Gautam Deb; Rabiranjan Chattopadhyay who defeated industry minister Nirupam Sen at Burdwan South; and Manish Gupta who ousted his former boss and chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya at Jadavpur. With a soft corner for her mentor Subrata Mukherjee, who was a minister in Siddhartha Rays cabinet and former mayor, she ensured that he also joined her team of ministers.

After the Singur and Nandigram movements, she realised that the Muslim vote was now with herMuslims have traditionally voted Left in Bengal but shaken by the land acquisition policy of the Left, switched sidesand she showed her gratitude by taking in three Muslim ministers, including Bobby Hakim, who is trusted by Mamata and won the key Kolkata Port seat. Nandigram has a huge Muslim population and the Lefts signal, soon after 2006, that it may also acquire land in South 24 Parganas, which has a vast Muslim population didnt go down well at all. Consequently, in the 2009 general elections, the Muslims largely voted TMC, a trend that was repeated in the assembly elections. Singurs MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya, a retired school teacher, and Purnendu Bose, trade union expert and former Naxal leader, were included in the team as well. The santhals, alienated by the Left, also found voice in her team, with Sukumar Hansda even taking his oath in Santhali. Also in the team are Mamata loyalists Subrata Bakshi, Partha Chatterjee, Madan Mitra (the Subhash Chakraborty of the TMC and so an expert at organising rallies etc).

Apart from the expected names, Mamata also chose several leaders from the districts, like Purulia, Birbhum, probably to send a signal that she would take all sections of society along with her. Romantic, some would say, but now that the first task of choosing her team is over, the difficult part begins. Her biggest problem will be her track record as railways minister, for though she has splurged on Bengal, announcing many new trains and 19 projects, barely two have taken off. In her manifestoand Amit Mitra helped her devise itMamata sets herself 200-day and 1,000-day targets to improve the state of industry, agriculture, health, education and infrastructure.

Tall order that, with the state steeped in debt, totalling R2 lakh crore and more. Economists say she will bank on railways and tourism to get the first projects off the ground. Railways has a lot of land locked in, and she wont have to tinker with the land acquisition policy just yet, though that is on the cards too. Now that the people of Bengal have voted for more, they wont be happy with less, and thats where the major test for Mamata lies. Some harsh decisions are required to improve the functioning of the administration, to restructure health, to make Bengal investor-friendly and free education of a cadre raj. Will she be up to it

sudipta.datta@expressindia.com