| Mamata Banerjee and Naveen Patnaik at the NDA meeting on Thursday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Jan. 8: Mamata Banerjee’s four-month-long wait for a ministry — despite being a minister — ended today when the Trinamul Congress chief was allotted coal and mines.
Mamata, who had quit Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet in March 2001 after the Tehelka arms scandal, had been reinducted on September 8 last year. She was offered the coal ministry but had refused to take charge, insisting that mines be restored to it.
Senior BJP leader Karia Munda held the coal ministry, while Ramesh Bais was in charge of mines. Bais has been given independent charge of environment and forests while Munda has been allotted non-conventional energy.
The decision to put Mamata in charge of coal and mines comes at a time when general elections are round the corner. Sources said the National Democratic Alliance was leaving nothing to chance, especially with the Congress making overtures to the coalition’s secular partners to join a front led by it.
The sources added that NDA strategists, especially defence minister George Fernandes, were worried that a spurned Mamata might again forge an electoral alliance with the Congress.
The exit of the two Tamil Nadu parties — the DMK and the MDMK — also prompted Vajpayee to do a bit of shuffling and club the two ministries to make it acceptable to the Trinamul chief, the sources added.
In the last two years, the NDA has lost five allies. Besides the DMK and the MDMK, the Lok Janshakti Party, the National Conference and the Bahujan Samaj Party have ended their alliance with the BJP.
Mamata thanked the Prime Minister. “I am thankful to the PM,” she said, but maintained that a ministry was not a “big thing” for her. “My original struggle is in West Bengal against the CPM. Political and financial anarchy is prevailing there.”
Sources said Mamata, who attended the NDA meeting chaired by the Prime Minister today to discuss early elections, told Vajpayee she was not as much concerned about the timing of the polls but whether they would be free and fair in Bengal, Bihar and the northeastern states.
In Calcutta, several Trinamul leaders, including her rival Sudip Bandyopadhyay who could not get a berth in the Union ministry following objections from Mamata last year, congratulated their chief.
“I telephoned Mamata and congratulated her on her new assignment. Her getting a portfolio will boost the party rank and file before the Lok Sabha polls,” Bandyopadhyay told PTI.
“It will now be the responsibility of the Trinamul Congress to fight the CPM in West Bengal while keeping good ties with the Centre and the NDA,” he said.