With the controversial and violence-ridden West Bengal Panchayat election 2018 now over, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday undertook a major cabinet rejig, the first major reshuffle since coming back to power for a second term in 2016. Highlights of her cabinet reshuffle included dropping three ministers and choosing to keep the tribal affairs portfolio for herself. Among the casualties are Churamani Mahato, James Kujur and Abani Joardar.
Apart from this cabinet rejig, reports say that Banerjee’s government transferred eight district magistrates posted in South and North Dinajpur, Birbhum, Bankura, West Midnapore, Hooghly, Alipurduar and Jhargram. However, the TMC supremo maintained that cabinet rejig was done to reduce the workload of some of the ministers.
The dropping of three ministers, not leaving the tribal affairs portfolio for others, and transferring district administrators have two things in common. First is TMC’s poor performance in the districts and areas these individuals were linked to apart from Joardar. And second, the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the principal opposition party in West Bengal.
A post-panchayat poll results analysis shows that the areas dominated by tribals went against TMC while the BJP managed to make inroads. While TMC leadership has also made changes in the leadership in areas where results were not expected, former ministers Churamani Mahato and James Kujur getting the axe is seen as a message to the grass-root level that any letdown in the party’s hold will have repercussions. Mahato represents Gopiballavpur Vidhan Sabha constituency in Jhargram district, Kujur, former ASP of Jalpaiguri, won from Kumargram Assembly in the Alipurduar district, which has sizeable tribal population.
According to a report by The Telegraph, BJP bagged 329 out of 806 gram panchayat seats in Jhargram, a tribal dominated area, garnering 42 per cent of vote share against the 48 per cent that TMC got winning 373 seats. Left parties, once a powerhouse in rural Bengal, got a mere 14 seats.
In Purulia, which hit national headlines following the mysterious deaths of two BJP workers, the saffron party wrested control in nine out of 40 zilla parishad seats. Apart from this, BJP also won four panchayat samitis and 60 out of 144 gram panchayats in this district, where tribals constitute 20 per cent of the population.
While Jhargram and Purulia districts have seen a definite rise in the BJP’s hold, other tribal dominated-pockets and districts across the state like Bankura, Jalpaiguri, South and North Dinajpur, have also seen the BJP make its presence felt, a trend that has picked up since BJP’s win at the Centre in 2014 and could pick up further.
With Mamata Banerjee eyeing a major role in forming an alliance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP, her party’s performance in the 42 seats of West Bengal is absolutely critical. Over the years, both assembly and Lok Sabha results in the state showed that the party which manages a hold in rural areas ends up getting a favourable mandate. Apart from this, West Bengal has traditionally been voted in favour of consolidation where one party has dominated – Congress used to dominate in the 70s, then came Left and since 2009 Lok Sabha, Mamata Banerjee’s party has taken the pole position.
Who gets what?
Senior cabinet minister Subrata Mukherjee, who was holding the important Panchayat and Rural Development portfolio, besides Public Health Engineering (PHE), will now be in charge of only the first one, an official notification said. In addition, he has been given the Water Resources Investigation and Development portfolio, which was held by Soumen Mahapatra, it added.
Irrigation Minister Rajib Banerjee has been shifted to the Backward Class Welfare department, while Mahapatra has been given the key Irrigation and Waterways portfolio.
Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee has been stripped of his Environment portfolio, which has been given to Transport Minister Suvendu Adhikari as an additional charge, the notification said. Chatterjee retained the Fire and Emergency Services and Housing portfolios.
Moloy Ghatak, who has been given the additional charge of PHE, will also hold the portfolios of Law and Labour, the notification said.
Minister of State Chandrima Bhattacharya retained her Health and Family Welfare and Land and Land Reforms departments, besides being given independent charge of Personnel and Administrative Reforms and e-governance. She also received additional charges of Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation and Tribal Development, the notification added.