Bengal Gets Four New Union Ministers, Here’s Who They Are

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Nisith Pramanik, John Barla, Santanu Thakur and Dr Subhas Sarkar are the new entrants from Bengal in the Union Council of Ministers.

Bengal has got four new ministers who represent various communities, especially the marginalised sections and ehtnic groups, of the state. The two incumbent junior ministers--Babul Supriyo and Debashree Chaudhuri--have been dropped.

The new ministers also represent different geographical areas of the state: Nisith Pramanik (Cooch Behar MP) and John Barla (Alipurduar MP) are from North Bengal while Santanu Thakur is from Bongaon in South Bengal and Dr Subhas Sarkar represents Bankura in ‘rarh Bangla’ (an extension of the Chota Nagpur Plateau in the western part of Bengal).

Nisith Pramanik: This first-time MP from Cooch Behar left the Trinamool Congress and joined the BJP in March 2019. He was once close to Trinamool’s ‘yuvraj’ Abhishek Banerjee. But Pramanik reportedly fell out with Banerjee over the latter’s alleged involvement in some rackets.

Nisith had a Robinhood image and was quite well known for helping the poor with money and material aid. He was a primary school teacher and while his mother Chhanda belongs to the Koch Rajbongshi community, his father Bidhu Bhushan Pramanik is a Dalit.

The 35-year-old is a good singer and painter and is a devout Hindu. He has been a patron of many Durga Pujas as well as other Hindu religious festivals in Cooch Behar.

Ever since his days in the Trinamool’s Yuva (which Mamata Banerjee floated to catapult her nephew Abhishek into prominence and as a counter to Suvendu Adhikari who headed the Trinamool Youth Congress at that time), Nisith earned the reputation of being a good organiser.

He is very popular among the people of Cooch Behar and has a reputation of being a very accessible leader.

John Barla: He was born into a family of tea garden labourers. He dropped out of high school due to the poor financial condition of his family and started working as a daily wage earner at Lakhipara tea estate (owned by the Goodricke Group) at the age of 14.

He joined the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI)--the youth wing of the CPI(M)--and was actively involved in many political activities. From a very young age he immersed himself in the welfare of fellow tea garden workers and the poor and marginalised communities of the Dooars region.

Barla came to be known as a good organiser and a team leader and rose through the ranks in the DYFI. When the agitation for a separate state of Gorkhaland was resumed in 2007 by the newly-formed Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Barla joined the Adivasi Vikas Parishad (AVP) that resisted the Morcha’s attempts to expand its organisational reach to the Dooars region.

Barla was instrumental in getting the scheduled tribes (tea garden workers hailing from the Chota Nagpur region) in the Dooars under the umbrella of the AVP and was successful in resisting the Morcha’s intended takeover of the Dooars.

Barla fell out with the AVP leadership over the latter’s support to Mamata Banerjee and ultimately left the organisation to join the BJP in 2017.

Barla has been working since then to expand the BJP’s footprints in North Bengal and make it the party of choice for the ST community in that region.

Barla, 46, is a popular politician and is reputed to be deeply empathic to the poor and marginalised people, especially tribals. He is known to be a hard worker and a no-nonsense man who speaks his mind.

Santanu Thakur: He belongs to the Thakur family which heads the Matua Mahasangh, a religious order of Namasudras (scheduled castes) which originated from Orakandi in Faridpur district of Bangladesh.

The Matuas, who are Vaishnavites, set up their headquarters at Thakurnagar in North 24 Parganas district after Partition.

Santanu Thakur has been actively involved in the affairs of the Mahasangh from a very young age. He used to help his father Manjul Krishna Thakur who was a minister in the last Trinamool government in Bengal.

Thakur’s inclusion in the Union Council of Ministers is being interpreted as the BJP leadership’s repayment of the debt of gratitude that the party owes to the Matua community for its support in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and the recent Assembly elections.

Santanu Thakur, 39, represents the Bongaon Lok Sabha seat in North 24 Parganas which borders Bangladesh.

Dr Subhas Sarkar: A gynaecologist by profession, this 68-year-old philanthropist represents Bankura Lok Sabha seat in the western part of Bengal.

From a very young age, Sarkar had been associated with various charitable activities and religious organisations like the Bharat Sevashram Sangha and the Ramakrishna Mission. He has been a very active member of Vidya Baharati, the educational wing of the RSS, in Bankura district.

Sarkar has been instrumental in establishing formal and informal schools for the poor and marginalized communities, including SC and ST communities, in Bankura and neighbouring districts of ‘Rarh Bengal’.

Sarkar is also actively involved with the Bharat Vikas Parishad, which is also an affiliate of the RSS and is a ‘service-cum-sanskar oriented socio-cultural organisation”.

Sarkar is well-known for his social work and his philanthropy, and is a down-to-earth medical practitioner who is widely respected and loved by the people of Bankura.

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