The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Trinamul counts Cabinet cost & benefit

Calcutta, May 18: After handing out a decision to her party MLAs to boycott the Assembly and give up government facilities, Trinamul Congress chairperson Mamata Banerjee appeared to be readying herself for a new stint as a Central minister.

With Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today lending credence in Manali to speculation about her re-induction to the Cabinet, Trinamul functionaries felt the development would boost the morale of the party, which took a severe beating in the panchayat poll.

“We are happy at the prospect of Mamata’s rejoining the Union Cabinet. If she becomes a Union minister, Trinamul’s hands will be strengthened in fighting the CPM’s terror as no one can fight them in Bengal without the backing of the Centre. We have been hearing about Mamata’s re-induction for quite some time. Now, the hint from the Prime Minister reconfirms what we anticipated,” said senior Trinamul leader and MLA Saugata Roy.

Though Trinamul leaders like Roy wished that Mamata got her previous railway portfolio, sources in the BJP felt it was unlikely. Mamata had quit her post as railway minister during the Tehelka expose in the run-up to the Assembly election in May, 2001. The buzz in Trinamul circles is that she would get the rural development ministry, which fell vacant following M. Venkaiah Naidu’s exit from the government. Naidu quit his post to become the BJP president.

However, not all are happy in Mamata’s party. A section of Trinamul leaders felt Mamata’s return to the Union Cabinet would lead to her alienation from the grassroots at a time when the Congress in Bengal is showing signs of resurgence. Voices of dissent are being raised by a section of Trinamul legislators like Dipak Ghosh, Nirbed Roy and Arunava Ghosh since the panchayat drubbing.

But the Manali development is expected to silence Mamata’s critics for the time being. They will now have to rethink their stands as Mamata’s becoming a minister will provide the much-needed cushion against an aggressive ruling party.

“If Didi becomes a minister, we will feel secure as the CPM has unleashed a reign of terror in the wake of our defeat in the panchayat poll,” said a member of the party’s youth wing.

But Mamata’s detractors in Trinamul feel the dismal result has brought to light that the Mamata “magic” was no longer effective. “At the grassroots, our supporters may soon turn to the Congress as they have an age-old infrastructure in the rural areas. Moreover, coming close to getting the Murshidabad and the Malda zilla parishads has made the Congress a hero of sorts to the anti-Left Front rural mass. We will not be surprised if a chunk of our supporters shift to the Congress,” said a Trinamul leader.

A section of the leaders felt Mamata was mostly confined to Delhi during her days as railway minister and, as “Trinamul is Mamata-centric”, a “huge communication gap” was created between her and the leaders at the grassroots. “Then, Mamata had become heavily dependent on a few close associates like Mukul Roy, Jyotipriya Mullick, Subrata Bakshi and Gautam Basu who communicated her decisions to the lower rung.”

Some of the senior leaders in the party believe that Mamata’s re-induction at the “eleventh hour” may have an adverse effect on Trinamul. “The general election is slated for next year. What can she prove in such a short time'” asked one of them.

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