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Battling fatigue, Basu bats for his boys
Relief after tiring mission

Calcutta, May 17: After several days of one gruelling session after another, Jyoti Basu today stepped out of Alimuddin Street 'exhausted' but 'relieved'.

Some of his 'favourite boys' like Asim Dasgupta and Subhas Chakraborty were in danger of losing their portfolios, but the 93-year-old Basu had worked overtime to ensure that they were retained.

'I am really exhausted after attending a string of secretariat and state committee meetings for the last four days. But today it's a relief for me that everybody in the party and in the front is happy over the allocation of portfolios,' Basu told The Telegraph tonight on his return from the Alimuddin Street party headquarters.

Party sources said that had it not been for Basu's unrelenting efforts, Dasgupta would have found himself dislodged from finance and Chakraborty from transport or at least the sports department.

A section of the leaders, including some ministers in the outgoing cabinet, also had reservations about Dasgupta because of a perception that he was 'too high on promises but short on delivery' when parting with funds for their departments.

However, it was Basu who underscored Dasgupta's 'deft dealings' with Union finance minister P. Chidambaram and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia, which had ensured a few thousand crores of central assistance to the state.

That Dasgupta got back excise, besides finance, is also being seen as a result of Basu's persuasion.

Ensuring both transport and sports for Chakraborty was a bigger task for Basu. Party sources said the chief minister would have allotted sports to Asok Bhattacharya but for Basu's intervention.

'Subhas has good contacts with sportspersons and he should not be disturbed,' Basu was quoted as saying at one of the meetings.

Basu also intervened to ease the party's labour pangs. Labour minister Mohammed Amin's 'upset' electoral defeat at Garden Reach had landed the party in a fix.

Since the announcement of the poll results, the CPM had been scouting around for a labour minister. The party sounded several leaders, including Subhas who flatly refused.

Eventually, the mantle fell on Mrinal Banerjee, the power minister, who reluctantly agreed. Mrinal had conveyed his unwillingness to CPM state secretary Biman Bose but relented as Basu wanted an experienced trade union hand to look after labour.

Women MLAs queue up for their swearing-in on Wednesday. Picture by Amit Datta

The chief minister initially backed Manab Mukherjee for information technology but Basu preferred Jadavpur University's computer engineering professor Debesh Das. 'This is an emerging sector and we need an expert to steer the department,' Basu said.

Basu felt that an important department like food processing should be personally handled by the chief minister. That saw Sailen Sarkar, who held food processing in the outgoing cabinet, being shifted to the less important parliamentary affairs.

The Marxist veteran played a key role in ensuring that the Forward Bloc, which lost three important seats ' Dinhata, Setai and Goalpukhar ' got agriculture. He was present all through the bipartite meeting with Bloc leaders at the CPM office to see to it that the minor partner was not hurt.

Some CPM leaders were opposed to giving agriculture to the Bloc this time, pointing at its poor electoral performance. At this, Basu intervened and told Biman that the front partner should not be antagonised. 'Our partners are equally important and so their demands have to be fulfilled,' he said.

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