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Rejig focus on rural polls
- Under-performers shunted, loyalists promoted

Calcutta, Nov. 21: Chief minister Mamata Banerjee today shuffled her council of ministers not only with an eye on the panchayat polls but also to reward loyalists and shunt “under-achievers” to unimportant departments.

Eight new ministers, most of them with strong rural bases, were inducted to fill vacancies created by the Congress’s exit from the government.

The most notable of the changes was the inclusion of two former Congress MLAs who formally joined Trinamul yesterday — Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury of Malda’s Englishbazar and Humayun Kabir of Murshidabad’s Rejinagar.

The move is being seen as part of the chief minister’s efforts to make inroads into her former ally’s bastions of Malda and Murshidabad.

Trinamul sources said Mamata had next year’s panchayat polls in her mind while finalising the new list of ministers as most of the MLAs inducted today were from rural areas. “Their inputs will help the government implement schemes in rural areas. Most of the new faces are young, another reason why they were taken,” a minister said.

A Trinamul MP said Becharam Manna, who had taken an active part in the Singur movement, was inducted to assert the “party’s concern for farmers who are yet to get back their land”.

The sources said Mamata was “happy” with the performance of Madan Mitra, Arup Biswas and Chandrima Bhattacharya.

According to the sources, Manjul Krishna Thakur was promoted because he represents the backward Matua community, which has a considerable presence in Bengal.

Some ministers with multiple charges, such as Manish Gupta, Rabiranjan Chattopadhyay and Haider Aziz Safwi, were relieved of a department each to streamline the administration and make room for other ministers. Gupta was relived of planning, Chattopadhyay of technical education and Safwi of inland water transport.

A Trinamul source said Singur MLA Rabindranath Bhattacharya was transferred from the agriculture department as Mamata “wasn’t pleased his performance”. “Bhattacharya was retained because he still wields some clout in Singur,” the source said.

Bhattacharya did not attend the oath-taking ceremony today. The sources said he was unhappy.