Seldom, in the history of independent India, has Bengal been so poorly represented in the Union council of ministers as under Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the past seven years since 2014.
The first Modi government (26 May 2014 to 30 May 2019) had two representatives from Bengal — Darjeeling Lok Sabha MP S S Ahluwalia and Asansol Lok Sabha MP Babul Supriyo — as junior ministers.
Supriyo was inducted into the first Modi ministry on 9 November 2014, more than five months after Modi assumed office, as a minister of state (MoS). Ahluwalia had to wait for more than two years and was sworn in as an MoS only in July 2016.
Supriyo was inducted into the second Modi ministry that assumed office on 30 May 2019, as MoS for environment, forest and climate change while Raiganj MP Debashree Chaudhuri was made the MoS for women and child development.
Both these lightweight ministers were dropped in the cabinet rejig on Wednesday and four fresh faces — Cooch Behar MP Nisith Pramanik, Alipurduar MP John Barla, Bankura MP Subhas Sarkar and Bongaon MP Santanu Thakur — were made ministers of state (read ).
While the induction of four junior ministers is an improvement of sorts on Bengal’s earlier dismal representation (only two) over the last seven years since 2014, the state is still grossly under-represented.
Not only is this poor representation of Bengal in the Union government causing considerable heartburn in BJP circles in the state, it has also provided yet another opportunity to the Trinamool Congress to criticise the BJP, especially Prime Minister Modi.
Since the first Jawaharlal Nehru ministry (15 August 1947 to 15 April 1952), representatives from Bengal have occupied senior cabinet ranks and a number of MPs from Bengal have served as ministers in most of the 23 governments since Independence till 2014.
Some of the senior (cabinet) ministers from Bengal since Independence were Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, Kshitish Chandra Neogy, Charu Chandra Biswas, Ashoke Kumar Sen, Humayun Kabir, Sachindra Chaudhuri, S K Dey, Triguna Sen, Pratap Chandra Chunder, Pranab Mukherjee, A B A Ghani Khan Choudhury, Ajit Kumar Panja, Indrajit Gupta, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, Mamata Banerjee, Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy.
The first Nehru ministry had two cabinet ministers from Bengal — Shyama Prasad Mookerjee and Kshitish Chandra Neogy (who held the commerce and then the finance portfolio). Neogy also became the chairman of the First Finance Commission of India.
The second Nehru ministry (15 April 1952 to 17 April 1957) had Charu Chandra Biswas as a cabinet minister and three ministers of state — Arun Chandra Guha, D P Karmakar and S K Dey.
The third Nehru ministry (17 April 1957 to 2 April 1962) had three ministers from Bengal — S K Dey, Ashoke Kumar Sen and Humayun Kabir. These three found place in the fourth Nehru ministry (2 April 1962 to May 27, 1964) as well.
Following Nehru’s death, Gulzarilal Nanda was sworn in as the prime minister and he retained Ashoke Sen, S K Dey and Humayun Kabir as ministers.
The Lal Bahadur Shastri ministry (9 June 1964 to 11 January 1966) had four senior ministers from Bengal — Sachindra Chaudhuri, Ashoke Kumar Sen, Humayun Kabir and S K Dey. Following Shastri’s death, the interim government headed by Gulzarilal Nanda (11-24 January 1966) also had three senior ministers from Bengal — Sen, Dey and Kabir.
The first Indira Gandhi ministry (24 January 1966 to 15 March 1971) had three senior ministers from Bengal — Triguna Sen, Sachindra Chaudhuri and Parimal Ghosh. These three found berths in the second Indira Gandhi ministry (15 March 1971 to 24 March 1977) also.
The short-lived Morarji Desai government (24 March 1977 to 28 July 1979) had two representatives from Bengal — Pratap Chandra Chunder as a cabinet minister and Abha Maity as a minister of state. The Charan Singh government (28 July 1978 to 14 January 1980), however, had no representative from Bengal, but that was because no MP from Bengal was supporting Charan Singh then.
When Indira Gandhi returned to power and assumed office for the second time on 14 January 1980, she inducted Pranab Mukherkee into her cabinet. The Congress had only four MPs from Bengal then.
The Rajiv Gandhi government that followed (31 October 1984 to 2 December 1989) had three senior ministers — Ashoke Kumar Sen, Ajit Kumar Panja and A B A Ghani Khan Choudhury — from Bengal where the Congress had bagged 16 Lok Sabha seats.
The National Front government headed by V P Singh (2 December 1989 to 10 November 1990) and the Chandra Shekhar (10 November 1990 to 21 June 1991) governments that followed had no representatives from Bengal in the council of ministers.
That was because the Janata Dal (of V P Singh) and the Samajwadi Janata Party/Janata Dal (Socialist) of Chandra Shekhar did not have any MPs from Bengal.
In the 1991 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress won just five seats from Bengal. But P V Narasimha Rao (who assumed office as prime minister on 21 June 1991) inducted three of the MPs from Bengal — Pranab Mukherjee, Ajit Panja and Mamata Banerjee — in his ministry.
The first Atal Bihari Vajpayee government that lasted a mere 16 days (16 May 1996 to 1 June 1996) did not have any representation from Bengal in the skeletal ministry, but that was because there were no BJP MPs elected from Bengal in 1996.
The United Front governments headed by H D Deve Gowda (1 June 1996 to 21 April 1997) and Inder Kumar Gujaral (21 April 1997 to 19 March 1998) had one cabinet minister from Bengal — Indrajit Gupta of Communist Party of India (CPI).
The United Front had the two communist parties — CPI and CPI(M) — as its constituents, but the CPI(M) with its 32 MPs had refused to join the government. None of the other constituents of the United Front (except the CPI) had any MPs from Bengal. That’s why the Deve Gowda and Gujaral governments had only one representative from the state.
Vajpayee returned to power for the second time on 19 March 1998 and continued till 10 October 1999. But his government had no ministers from Bengal because the BJP or its NDA allies had not won any seats from Bengal.
In the Lok Sabha elections held in October 1999, the BJP bagged two seats from Bengal while the newly-formed Trinamool won eight seats. Vajpayee inducted both the BJP MPs from Bengal — Satyabrata Mookerjee and Tapan Sikdar — into his ministry. From the Trinamool, Mamata Banerjee and Ajit Panja were also inducted.
The UPA I government (22 May 2004 to 22 May 2009) headed by Manmohan Singh had two senior ministers from Bengal — Pranab Mukherjee and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi. The Congress had won only six seats from Bengal in 2004. The Trinamool was not part of UPA I.
The UPA II government (22 May 2009 to 26 May 2014) inducted five ministers from Bengal — Pranab Mukherjee and Mamata Banerjee (Dinesh Trivedi and Mukul Roy became cabinet ministers after she resigned from the Lok Sabha following the Trinamool’s victory in the 2011 assembly polls in Bengal) as cabinet ministers, and Adhir Ranjan Choudhury, Abu Hasan Khan Choudhury and Deepa Das Munshi as ministers of state.
In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress won six seats from Bengal and four of those six MPs became members of the Manmohan Singh government. The Trinamool won 19 seats, but Mamata Banerjee did not want anyone other than herself in the Union council of ministers.
It is thus apparent that successive prime ministers have given fair representation to Bengal and some, like Vajpayee in 1999 and Manmohan Singh in 2009, gave more than its fair share of representation (in the Union government) to Bengal.
The BJP won 18 seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Bengal and considering that figure, the two junior ministerships that Modi offered to Bengal (he increased it to four on Wednesday) is seen in political circles as grossly unfair (read ).
This under-representation of Bengal will come in handy for the Trinamool in the runup to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Sources in the senior ranks of the Trinamool confirmed to Swarajya that the party is planning to highlight this issue of representation of the state in the Union council of ministers.
“It will be very easy to tell the people of Bengal that electing 18 MPs of the BJP has not yielded any gains for them or the state, and that the BJP leadership, especially Modi-Amit Shah, are apathetic towards Bengal. It will thus be much better to support the Trinamool which has a very good chance of becoming part of the ruling dispensation in Delhi in 2024. The Trinamool will ensure that a number of MPs from Bengal find a place in the next Union council of ministers, especially at the senior cabinet level,” said a senior Trinamool leader.
The Trinamool is clearly planning to play on Bengali pride and identity, a strategy that yielded good dividends for the party in the recently-concluded assembly polls. And the BJP will have only itself to blame for giving the Trinamool a big and strong stick to beat it (the BJP) with.
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