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Ministry chance of rural belt 8

Calcutta, Nov. 20: Mamata Banerjee is likely to induct during tomorrow’s ministry shuffle eight new faces, mostly from rural areas, with an eye on the panchayat polls due next year, a source close to the chief minister said this afternoon.

Of the nine, seven are sitting Trinamul legislators, while the other two are Krishnendu Chowdhury from Malda and Humayun Kabir from Murshidabad, the source said. Chowdhury and Kabir resigned today as Congress MLAs and joined Trinamul.

Chowdhury from Englishbazar and Kabir from Rejinagar submitted their resignations to the Assembly Speaker. They were accompanied by a host of Trinamul leaders, including industries minister Partha Chatterjee and former railway minister Mukul Roy.

“I accepted the resignations. They will have to seek a fresh mandate within six months of being inducted into the ministry,” Speaker Biman Banerjee said.

With Chowdhury’s defection, Trinamul will take sole control of the Englishbazar municipality, of which he is the chairman. In the 25-member board, Trinamul alone will have 16 legislators as nine of the 10 Congress legislators have switched to Trinamul, Chowdhury claimed. The two parties used to jointly run the board.

The Trinamul source said tonight that Chowdhury could get a cabinet berth. The remaining eight are expected to be inducted as junior ministers, he added.

The strength of Mamata’s ministry will rise to 45 with the induction of the nine MLAs. The strength of the ministry had fallen below the required 15 per cent of the 294 seats in the Assembly with the resignation of seven Congress ministers.

The source said junior minister for Sundarbans affairs, Shyamal Mandal, was likely to be replaced because his “performance is not up to the mark”. Agriculture minister Rabindranath Bhattacharya may be relieved of his duties because of “poor health”, the source added.

Before leaving Writers’ this evening, Mamata blessed Madan Mitra, the minister of state for transport, for his “good performance”. This sparked speculation in Trinamul circles that he might be elevated to cabinet rank.

Junior health minister Chandrima Bhattacharya and minister of state for youth service and housing Arup Biswas may also be elevated, the source said.

Of the nine to be inducted, seven are likely to be from the rural belt. Six of them are Rajib Banerjee from Domjurh in Howrah, Pundarikaksha Saha from Nabadwip in Nadia, Becharam Manna from Haripal in Hooghly, Swapan Debnath from Purbasthali South in Burdwan, Manturam Pakhira from Kakdwip in South 24-Parganas and Giasuddin Mollah from Mograhat in the same district. Constituencies represented by Chowdhury and Kabir are also predominantly rural.

“Mamatadi is inducting those hailing from the rural belt keeping in mind the panchayat polls,” a Trinamul MP close to Mamata said.

Raj Bhavan sources said governor M.K. Narayanan would administer the oath of office to the nine incumbents at 1.15pm tomorrow in the presence of the chief minister and her cabinet colleagues.

According to the MP, Manna, who had taken an active part in the Singur movement, would be inducted to assert the “party’s concern for the farmers who are yet to get back their land”.

Purbasthali MLA Debnath, who is also Trinamul’s Burdwan (rural) unit president, is being considered because Mamata wants to “send the message” to the people of the “rice bowl” that she is “concerned” about them, the MP said.