Calcutta, May 17: Old wine was sloshed into an old bottle today by an experienced grape grower named Jyoti Basu for the consumption of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee who was thirsty for some new blood.
Bhattacharjee’s 2006 cabinet the CPM picked after six days of intense discussions and haggling looked far removed from the fresh and small team he had in mind.
“I am very happy that the cabinet has been formed through the process of consultation,” said Basu who sat through several meetings over the past four days, disregarding old age and irregular health.
“The leadership finalised the names which I have just announced,” added state party secretary Biman Bose, “and I refuse to elaborate why we deliberated for so many days or why we made certain changes because I am hard-pressed for time.”
Not that there wasn’t any change at all. There was, and it was possibly not what Bhattacharjee had expressly wished for ' the drastic downsizing of Manab Mukherjee, who had been piloting the chief minister’s IT initiative. Mukherjee lost IT ' to Debesh Das, a new MLA ' as well as environment, despite some resistance put up by Bhattacharjee.
Most members of the party’s secretariat ' the highest state-level decision-making body ' notably the influential Burdwan lobby, ranged themselves against Bhattacharjee’s efforts at the meetings today and yesterday. They forced him to agree to the shifting of his prot'g' to a lesser charge, cottage and small industry and tourism.
Neither Basu nor Bose made any attempt to support Mukherjee. “It’s a hard knock for someone who had become used to rubbing shoulders with the likes of Azim Premji (Wipro). Now he will have to spend time and energy making the ailing Tantuja profitable,” said a CPM official.
Bhattacharjee also had to accept defeat for his plans to unveil a new finance, transport and health minister, thanks to the joint intervention by Basu and Bose. Asim Dasgupta stays in finance, Surjya Kanta Mishra in health and Subhas Chakraborty in transport and sports.
Chakraborty, a constant cause of embarrassment to the government, has even been given the additional responsibility of youth affairs.
Labour, for which the party couldn’t find anyone, has been given to Mrinal Banerjee, the power minister.
| Basu and Bhattacharjee at the CPM’s Alimuddin Street headquarters. Picture by Amit Datta
A section of the party harbours the view that Bhattacharjee’s plans would have been implemented better had Anil Biswas, the former secretary, been alive. Much of it had been structured in consultation with Biswas.
Bhattacharjee’s new cabinet with 44 members, four down on 2001, is a near repeat of the faces that adorned his government in the last term.
Perhaps, the chief minister, who had wanted the ministry to be confined to 35 members, also had to pay a price for the dramatic electoral success that encouraged district units to winch up their demands.
The cabinet size would have been larger had not a Supreme Court ruling already fixed the number of ministers at no more than 15 per cent of the strength of the House.
Bhattacharjee is saddled with six departments. “I haven’t been able to allocate these portfolios so far. This will be done by and by. Etto gulo daftar shamlano sambhab na (can’t take care of so many departments),” he said.
The swearing-in is tomorrow.