West Bengal

Wish-List For Prime Minister Modi From Bengal: A Cabinet Post And Couple Of MoS Berths

Jaideep Mazumdar

Jun 08, 2024, 06:30 PM | Updated 06:30 PM IST

BJP in Bengal
BJP in Bengal
  • In 2019, a cabinet berth eluded Bengal, leaving many in the state disappointed.
  • In 2019, Bengal elected 18 BJP MPs to the Lok Sabha. That was the best-ever performance of the party in parliamentary elections till date. 

    Since the BJP was keen to strengthen its presence in Bengal and unseat the Trinamool Congress from power in 2021, it was widely expected that the state would be amply rewarded by the party’s central leadership. 

    It was widely expected that Prime Minister Modi would make at least one MP from Bengal a cabinet minister and induct three to four others as junior ministers (Ministers of State or MoS).

    But a cabinet berth eluded Bengal, leaving many in the state disappointed. Modi initially inducted just two BJP MPs from Bengal into his council of ministers in 2019. 

    Raiganj MP Debasree Chaudhuri was made the Minister of State for Women & Child Development in May 2019, but she was dropped from the ministry in a reshuffle in July 2021. 

    Similarly, Asansol MP Babul Supriyo was also made the junior minister in the Environment, Forest and Climate Change department in May 2019, but was dropped in July 2021. He quit the BJP in a fit of anger a couple of months later.

    After dropping these two MPs from Bengal from his council of ministers, Modi did induct four other MPs from the state in the council, but once again only as junior ministers. 

    Cooch Behar MP Nisith Pramanik was made MoS, Home, Alipurduar MP John Barla was made MoS, Minority Affairs, Bongaon MP Santanu Thakur was made MoS for Ports, Shipping & Waterways while Bankura MP Subhas Sarkar was made MoS for Education. All were inducted in the council of ministers in July 2019. 

    What rankled people of Bengal was that no MP from the state was thought fit to be made a cabinet minister. 

    Moreover, all these junior ministers from Bengal had senior and veteran leaders as their bosses (cabinet ministers) and were thus quite powerless.

    Nisith Pramanik, for instance, had Amit Shah as his boss while John Barla and Debasree Chaudhuri had Smriti Irani as their boss. Santanu Thakur had former Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal as his senior minister, while Subhas Sarkar reported to Dharmendra Pradhan. Babul Supriyo had Prakash Javadekar as  his boss in both the environment, forest and climate change ministry (May 2019 to July 2021) and, before that, in the heavy industries & public enterprises department (July 2016 to May 2019). 

    This time, though Bengal has sent only 12 BJP to the Lok Sabha, expectations are high that one of them will be made a cabinet minister and at least two will be made Ministers of State. 

    The prime candidate for the cabinet berth ought to be Darjeeling MP Raju Bista. There are a few reasons for this. 

    The Gorkhas who are the majority community in Darjeeling have been steadfastly loyal to the BJP since 2009. Veteran BJP leader Jaswant Singh was elected to the Lok Sabha from Darjeeling in 2009, and Surinderjeet Singh Ahluwalia in 2014. 

    Both were ‘outsiders’ with no links to Darjeeling, but that did not stop the Gorkhas from electing the BJP candidates with huge margins. Jaswant Singh won by a margin of over 2.5 lakh votes, while Ahluwalia;s victory margin was more than 1.97 lakh. 

    Raju Bista was fielded in 2019 and though he was a Gorkha, he hailed from Manipur. He inflicted a crushing defeat on his Trinamool Congress rival by a margin of more than 4.13 lakh votes. This time, Bista’s victory margin was also quite high--nearly 1.79 lakh. 

    But the people of Darjeeling haven’t been rewarded as yet for their loyalty to the BJP. Also, Gorkhas form a significant section of the electorate in the Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar seats (which the BJP won this time also) in North Bengal, and making Bista a cabinet minister will have a positive effect on them as well. 

    Modi owes a debt to Darjeeling. In 2014, he told the Gorkhas: “Your dream is our dream. Give us a chance to ensure development for you”. 

    In 2019, he assured the Gorkhas that he would strive to find a political solution to their demand for a separate state (Gorkhaland). Modi also promised to give Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to 12 Gorkha communities, and fast-track development of Darjeeling and North Bengal. 

    This time, Modi told the Gorkhas that the Union Government is “very sensitive to the challenges and problems of the Gorkhas” and is “very close” to finding a political solution to the Gorkhaland issue. 

    A cabinet berth to their representative would be a fair reward to the Gorkhas who have braved enticements and coercion (by the Trinamool Congress and the state machinery) to remain loyal to the BJP. It would also signal a sincerity of purpose and intent (to find a political solution to Gorkhaland issue) on the Prime Minister’s part. 

    Also, Bista has the right credentials to be made a cabinet minister. The 38-year-old had a humble beginning--his father was a village school teacher in Manipur and his mother a vegetable seller. He joined the RSS when he was just 12 years old and has been an active member of the organisation since then. 

    Bista joined the Surya Foundation, a leading social service organisation working in the fields of village and youth development, education and naturopathy. Known for his administrative, leadership and organisational skills, Bista was the managing director of Surya Roshni, a pipes and lighting company with a sales turnover of nearly Rs 8000 crore. 

    He, thus, is eminently suited for a cabinet slot. Inducting him into the cabinet would send a positive signal to the Gorkhas who, though they have been neglected for so long, have voted overwhelmingly for the BJP over the past 15 years. 

    Bengal has always got scant representation in successive Union Ministries. Over the past three decades, only three from Bengal have found a place in the Union cabinet: Indrajit Gupta of the CPI who was Union Home Minister from 1996 to 1998 under Prime Ministers H.D.Deve Gowda and I.K.Gujral; Mamata Banerjee served in the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh governments and Pranab Mukherjee in the Manmohan cabinet. 

    Mukherjee had been Union Minister since Indira Gandhi’s reign, but he was a Rajya Sabha MP from other states. It was only in 2004 that he was elected to the Lok Sabha from Jangipur in Bengal. He was re-elected in 2009, but resigned in 2012 before becoming the President of the country. 

    The others from Bengal who need to be considered for representation in the Union council of ministers this time are state BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar (elected from Balurghat), Shantanu Thakur (who was made MoS in July 2021) and Saumitra Khan, the three-time MP from Bishnupur. 

    Thakur is a leader of the Matuas (a Scheduled Caste group who fled Muslim persecution in East Pakistan and then Bangladesh) whose support has been crucial for the BJP in Bengal. Khan also belongs to a SC community which needs to be nurtured by the BJP. 

    Sukanta Majumdar needs to be shifted to the Centre so that the much-required overhaul of the BJP state unit in Bengal can be carried out smoothly. Keeping him as the president--and he has been quite an ineffective party chief--will hinder the clean-up exercise and removing him from the post without giving him something in return will also create more problems for the crisis-ridden party in Bengal. 

    Modi would also do well to make Samik Bhattacharya, one of the only two Rajya Sabha MPs from Bengal, a junior minister. Articulate and urbane, Bhattacharya hails from Kolkata where the BJP is trying to make inroads. 

    Bhattacharya is also the chief spokesperson of the party in the state and besides being a good orator, has always put across the party’s viewpoint very strongly but in a suave manner. His inclusion in the council of ministers can send a positive signal to the ‘bhadralok’ Bengalis who have, so far, stayed away from the BJP.

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