Mamata Banerjee rejigs Cabinet as MLA, 50 councillors join BJP

Mamata's damage control exercise came barely a couple of hours after three at a press conference at its central headquarters in Delhi.

The councillors said they had nothing against Mamata but wanted to be part of Modi's development plan.
KOLKATA: Less than a week after BJP stunned Trinamool in West Bengal by making historic gains in the state in the Lok Sabha elections, chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday rejigged her 43-member cabinet with her focus firmly on North Bengal and Jangalmahal, where her party faced huge reverses.

Mamata's damage control exercise came barely a couple of hours after three at a press conference at its central headquarters in Delhi. While the MLAs are from Trinamool, Congress and CPM, all the councillors are from the ruling party in Bengal.

The MLAs who crossed over included Subhrangshu Roy, the son of Mamata's erstwhile confidante and now BJP leader Mukul Roy. Tusharkanti Bhattacharya (Congress) and Debendra Roy (CPM) are the other two MLAs.

BJP's central leadership threatened more damage to Trinamool. "We will induct people from other parties in phases just like elections in Bengal were held in seven phases. Tuesday's was the first phase. Many more are in touch with us," party general secretary and Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayavargiya said, referring to PM Narendra Modi's statement during the campaign that over 40 TMC MLAs were in touch with BJP.

"This will happen every month. We all wish the Mamata Banerjee government completes its tenure but cannot help if people do not want this," Vijayvargiya added.

Though Mamata termed the cabinet rejig a "routine" post-election development, it was quite apparent that TMC's debacle in North Bengal and Jangalmahal was behind the move. The portfolios of two ministers, Benoy Krishna Burman and Shantiram Mahato, were taken away and given to party seniors like Subrata Mukherjee, Subhendu Adhikari, Rajiv Banerjee and Bratya Basu.

North Bengal and Jangalmahal will also be the core topics to be discussed in the first administrative review meeting to be convened by the CM on June 7. According to sources, the CM will take stock of state projects in these zones.

Trinamool's electoral setback in the Jangalmahal belt of Midnapore, Jhargram, Purulia and Bankura, where the party failed to win a single Lok Sabha seat, had prompted the CM last week to task Subhendu Adhikari to lead the fightback in this belt.

Subrata Mukherjee, who was relieved from the state cabinet to fight the Bankura LS seat (which he lost), was handed back his old panchayat portfolio along with the additional responsibility of Paschimanchal development.

The cabinet rejig came soon after three MLAs and 50 civic councillors joined BJP in Delhi, reversing the one-way traffic of defectors to TMC from all parties since it came to office in Bengal in 2011.

With the crossing over of 50 councillors, all from Trinamool, the control of four North 24 Paraganas municipalities - Naihati, Kanchrapara, Halishahar and Bhatpara - has effectively gone to BJP.

What may hurt TMC more is the grassroots-level defection of so many councillors less than a week after BJP made history by bagging 18 of 42 seats in Bengal. The four North 24 Parganas municipalities are part of the Barrackpore LS constituency that Trinamool rebel-turned-BJP candidate Arjun Singh wrested from defeated TMC MP Dinesh Trivedi.

The councillors said they had nothing against Mamata but wanted to be part of Modi's development plan. Ironically, some of them included those who voted against Singh in a no-trust vote in April when he was chairman of the Bhatpara municipality. However, BJP's coming to power and Singh's winning the Barrackpore seat coupled with his son Pawan Singh's victory in the Bhatpara assembly bypoll seemed to have made the difference in the last two months.

Singh, while celebrating the switchover at Bhatpara Municipality, said: "We are now a majority here. We will intimate this to the district magistrate and seek his permission before issuing a no-trust notice to the municipality chairman."

Trinamool senior Firhad Hakim said the councillors were under pressure to change loyalty. "Our ministers are being heckled. Our councillors are being forced to defect at gunpoint. Mukul Roy left the Trinamool under pressure and these councillors took the same route," he said.

Roy, however, rebuffed the Trinamool charge, referring to how 15 Congress MLAs had joined TMC over the last few years. He also accused TMC of intimidating elected BJP panchayat representatives and asked them to switch parties at places where TMC could not garner a majority to form the board.
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