West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has tried to ensure a range of groups find representation in her government after winning an assembly election that captured the turmoil and the deep divisions the state has witnessed in recent years. Among her team of ministers, seven are from the two Medinipur districts — Purba (East) and Paschim (West). Purba Medinipur is the home district of Suvendu Adhikari, former Mamata aide and now the leader of the opposition (LoP) in the new assembly, and he also has considerable influence in neighbouring Paschim Medinipur. While the chief minister’s Trinamool Congress won the elections handsomely, Suvendu defeated her to claim the Nandigram seat in Purba Medinipur for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The composition of Mamata’s government, with the ‘M’ (Medinipur) factor evident, suggests the TMC is attempting to regain lost ground in these parts.
A total of 43 TMC leaders were sworn in as ministers, including 19 ministers of state, in a simple ceremony at the Raj Bhavan on Monday adhering to Covid protocols. Mamata held the first meeting of the cabinet hours later. On May 5, she had been sworn in as chief minister by governor Jagdeep Dhankhar.
Akhil Giri, who is known to be anti-Suvendu, has been given the fisheries portfolio. Giri has been an MLA for a long time, but this is the first time he has got a ministry. “I am happy that I have been given this responsibility and I will be with the people as per Didi’s (Mamata’s) directions. This is Mamata Banerjee’s win and we are her soldiers,” he said.
The Suvendu factor did not help the BJP perform sufficiently well even in his home district. Of the 16 assembly seats here, the TMC won more than the BJP, grabbing nine. In three other districts where the Suvendu factor was said to be having an influence— Bankura, Purulia, and Paschim Medinipur— the TMC won 21 seats against the BJP’s 15. However, the saffron party did gain in these four districts, winning 21 more seats than in the 2016 assembly polls, while the TMC lost 10 seats. Suvendu was instrumental in organising the Nandigram movement around 2007 that led to the collapse of three decades of Left Front rule in West Bengal with Mamata Banerjee seizing power.
Another TMC legislator with a supposed aversion for Suvendu, Seuli Saha, has also got a ministerial berth. Saha also believed to be close to another Trinamool turncoat Mukul Roy who is in the BJP. Insiders say when a lot of TMC leaders were changing sides ahead of the elections, Seuli stayed with the party and fought.
“Suvendu has always taken other people’s credit. Now it has been proved that nothing is bigger than Mamata Banerjee,” said Saha, who has been made minister of state for panchayat and rural development. “We have really proved that Adhikari does not matter and I am thankful that Medinipur has got a good number of ministers.”