Reward-and-rebuild thrust in selection of Mamata-baiters

Barun Ghosh

Calcutta, Oct. 28: The Congress high command today rewarded "three known critics" of Mamata Banerjee by inducting them into the Union council of ministers, setting the stage for an "all-out" campaign to take on the Trinamul chief.

Bengal MPs Adhir Chowdhury, Deepa Das Munshi and Abu Hasem Khan Choudhury ' all Mamata-baiters ' were included as junior ministers in the shuffle, as the central leadership stressed the challenges ahead following the split with Trinamul.

"The high command's move to induct Adhirji, Deepaji and Abu Hasem saheb is primarily aimed at rebuilding the organisation in Bengal ahead of the panchayat (elections next year) and the Lok Sabha polls (due in 2014)," the central leadership's man for Bengal, Shakeel Ahmed, told The Telegraph from Delhi.

Ahmed also spoke of the challenge of "independently" fighting the ruling Trinamul, the Left and the "fledgling" BJP. "(So) rebuilding of the organisation from the grassroots is the need of the hour," he said, shortly after the trio were sworn in at Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Murshidabad strongman Adhir, MP from Behrampore, has been made a minister of state for railways. Deepa, MP from Raiganj in North Dinajpur, has become junior minister for urban development. Malda South MP Khan Choudhury, brother of the late A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, has been appointed minister of state for health and family welfare.

Shakeel said the Centre's decision to reward the "three known critics of Mamataji" was a "well-calculated move" to send a "positive message" to party workers across the state.

"We shall go all out against Mamataji for misleading people about the Centre's economic reforms. We will have to mobilise public opinion in favour of FDI in multi-brand retail and other measures."

The AICC leader said state Congress chief Pradip Bhattacharya's name had also been considered. "But the high command changed its mind deliberating the fact that Pradipji, who has been effectively steering the party in Bengal for over one-and-a-half years, should continue to do so at this juncture," he said, ruling out the possibility of any change of guard in the Bengal unit before the Lok Sabha elections.

Burrabazar unit president Santosh Pathak, whose supporters had burnt Mamata's effigy at a Congress-sponsored rally in Calcutta last month, said party workers would surely rally behind the quartet ' "Pradipda, Adhirda, Deepadi and Khan saheb" ' to help them "gear the organisation" for the battles ahead.

A senior state leader said one reason the three MPs were chosen was that the districts they represented were traditional Congress strongholds. "The high command's move… is a calculated attempt to help keep our political consolidation intact in the three districts where Trinamul has started slowly infiltrating," Congress chief spokesman Abdul Mannan said.

In Murshidabad, the Congress has 14 legislators out of the 22 the district sends to the Assembly. In North Dinajpur, which accounts for nine seats, the Congress and Trinamul have three each. In Malda, which has 12 seats, the Congress has eight and Trinamul one. Together, the three districts account for 25 of the Congress's 42 MLAs in the 294-member House.

Mannan said Congress workers from the three districts would feel rejuvenated, more so after Trinamul's victory in Sagardighi ' the lone seat it won from Murshidabad in the 2011 Assembly elections ' had signalled Mamata's slow inroads "into our stronghold".

President Pranab Mukherjee's son Abhijit's razor-thin victory margin in the recent Jangipur by-election in Murshidabad was also a wake-up call, he said. "So, the trio's induction would help us check Trinamul's inroads into Murshidabad, Malda and North Dinajpur," he said.

Abhijit won the parliamentary seat by a little over 2,500 votes against his father's victory margin of more than 128,000 in 2009.

Mannan also said the trio's induction would act as a "morale booster" for party workers in Nalhati, Birbhum, where a by-election will shortly be held. The Assembly seat has been vacated by Abhijit, who has now become an MP.

Shortly after taking oath, Adhir challenged Mamata to bring a no-confidence motion against the central government. "The winter session of Parliament is commencing from November 22. I challenge Mamata Banerjee that if she has the guts, let her party table a no-confidence motion in the House and see which party stands where. The Congress is not afraid to face the election," he said.

The Murshidabad MP said the three of them had been inducted to fill the vacuum created by Trinamul's exit from the central coalition. "The Centre wants party MPs to represent Bengal in the Union cabinet after Trinamul junior ministers resigned, and this is why we were inducted into the Union cabinet," he said.

The new junior railway minister criticised the decisions Mamata took when she headed the department. "It will take a number of railway budgets to implement the series of announcements made by her during her tenure in the railway ministry," he said.

"Everything was on paper. She has announced projects without making adequate monetary provisions. She was a failure as railway minister," Adhir said.He also said the people's mandate was for the UPA to complete its full five-year term.