Cabinet berths for turncoats may hit Mamata’s bid to brush up party image

As West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Wednesday announced a reshuffle of her cabinet by inducting nine new faces in the backdrop of the multi-crore WBSSC recruitment scam, many people opined that this reshuffle was an attempt by the chief minister to project a “clean cabinet” image.

The attempt was visible in two particular decisions in the reshuffle. The first was the inclusion of party veteran Pradip Majumdar as the panchayat affairs and rural development minister, which was applauded by political observers. Majumdar, who had been the principal agriculture adviser to the state government since the Trinamool Congress came to power in 2011, was considered a good choice for the post considering his vast experience and an extremely clean image as there had been frequent charges of corruption in running the panchayat affairs.

The second right choice was giving agriculture minister Sovandeb Chattopadhyay the additional charge of the parliamentary affairs department, which was earlier held by Partha Chatterjee, tainted in the WBSSC scam. A perfect example of the Bengali bhadralok (gentleman), an image which the late former CM Jyoti Basu and Mamata Banerjee’s predecessor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya are still associated with, Chattopadhyay has a clean record in almost four decades of his political career, be it during his earlier association with the Congress or his present stint with the Trinamool Congress. In fact, he was the first Trinamool Congress representative in the West Bengal assembly way back in 1998.

However, observers feel that all these “clean cabinet” projections have been slightly marred by the inclusion of three turncoat MLAs — singer turned politician and two-time BJP Lok Sabha member, Babul Supriyo and two former All India Forward Bloc legislators, Udayan Guha and Tajmul Hossain. Supriyo and Guha were given the information technology, electronics, tourism department, and the north Bengal development department respectively.

A comment by Guha after being made a minister on Wednesday afternoon has added spice to the controversy of turncoat politics. “It is a great day for me. My father was a minister in the Left Front regime and now I am a minister in the current Trinamool Congress regime,” said Guha, son of late Kamal Guha, the heavyweight All India Forward Bloc minister of agriculture, agriculture marketing and public health engineering in the Left Front regime in West Bengal.

“His comment is an honest confession that maintaining the family legacy of ministership was his sole goal. Remember, Udayan Guha was the one who made a false allegation on the floor of the assembly that Border Security Force personnel sexually harass women in the bordering villages in the name of frisking. So, it is clear how effective such a politician will be in the state cabinet,” said BJP spokesman in West Bengal, Samik Bhattacharya.

Similar is the case of two-time All India Forward Bloc MLA from Harischandrapur assembly constituency in Malda district from 2006 to 2016. “From 2011 to 2016, Tajmul was one of the Left Front MLAs against whom the current government slapped a number of criminal charges. However, all those cases were withdrawn after he joined Trinamool Congress before the 2016 West Bengal assembly elections. And now he is a minister. My question is if those criminal cases slapped against him were valid then, then how is he a clean person now that he can be even considered for a ministerial chair. Actually, BJP at the national level and Trinamool Congress at the state level are adopting the same money and pressure tactics to rope in leaders from other parties,” said CPI(M) central committee member, Robin Deb.

The same logic can be applicable in the case of Babul Supriyo, feels veteran state Congress leader and former three-time party legislator, Manoj Chakraborty. “After the Asansol riots, Supriyo, as the then BJP Lok Sabha member from Asansol, was accused of fuelling tension in the area and aggravating the riots. During his term with the BJP, Supriyo was the most vocal critic of the state government. In my opinion, the chief minister has a fondness to be surrounded by celebrities like filmstars and singers. Supriyo, with his singing talent, can serve that purpose. That is probably his only qualification to get a ministerial berth,” Chakraborty said.

According to political analyst Arundhati Mukherjee, the trend of changing political camps has become so blatant in West Bengal since the last 10 to 12 years, that it is extremely difficult to really weed out all turncoats from the ministerial ambit.

“Let me give you two examples. In the previous Left Front regime, the post of the land and land reforms minister was considered the second most powerful cabinet rank after the chief minister. The chair had been occupied by Marxists like Hare Krishna Konar and Benoy Choudhury. In fact, after coming to power in West Bengal in 2011, Mamata Banerjee herself retained that department considering its importance in state politics. Probably, no one could have imagined that the last land and land reforms minister of the Left Front regime, Abdur Rezzak Mollah, after occupying that chair for a long time, would join the Trinamool Congress before the 2016 assembly elections and remain satisfied with the insignificant portfolio of food processing minister,” Mukherjee said.

Next, she cited the example of the current Union civil aviation minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia. “The four-time Congress MP and son of Congress leader, late Madhavrao Scindia joining the BJP was yet another shocker for many. For any political party or individual politician today, what matters is power equations and the question of ideological loyalty does not arise. So, there is nothing to be surprised at turncoats being offered ministerial berths. But surely such inclusions will raise questions about the ‘clean cabinet’ image of the chief minister,” she said.

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