The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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CM in Hyderabad, Asim in hot seat

Calcutta, Jan. 25: He was the transport minister when Subhas Chakraborty was out of town. And he was no stopgap.

Asim Dasgupta kept himself busy and the public interested with his efforts to rein in traffic chaos and stem corruption among traffic policemen. The finance minister revelled in his new role.

Now, he has been asked to “handle governance” in chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s absence. And, knowing his penchant to take new responsibility seriously, many in the party and the government are anxious to see what comes out of the finance minister’s brief affair with the big chair in the government.

With Bhattacharjee and the three ministers who come next in the cabinet’s pecking order leaving for the CPM’s politburo and central committee meetings in Hyderabad beginning January 28, Dasgupta has been told to take charge. He has been asked to speak to the chief minister about the goings-on here and convey decisions to the various departments.

No one in the party or the government would talk on the issue, let alone speculate, least of all the man himself. A much mellowed — and wiser — Dasgupta would only disclaim knowledge about his new responsibility in gentlemanspeak. “I do not know anything about this,” he told The Telegraph.

But those in the know say he is poised for a bigger role, albeit for a few days.

Bhattacharjee is leaving for the Andhra Pradesh capital on Tuesday. Commerce and industries minister Nirupam Sen, health minister Surjya Kanta Mishra and labour minister Mohammad Amin, all members of the CPM’s central committee, will leave on January 29 for its two-day meeting from Friday.

All four are expected to be back in the city on January 31 and, till then, Dasgupta will be at the helm.

The chief minister, CPM insiders said, will be in touch with him over the phone. Bhattacharjee will also be speaking to the top two bureaucrats in the state — chief secretary Ashok Gupta and home secretary Amit Kiran Deb.

But Dasgupta will play the “key role” — liaising between the absent chief minister and his cabinet colleagues in the city.

If Dasgupta will be in charge of the government, housing minister Gautam Deb will bridge the gap between Writers’ Buildings and the party. He will be in touch with state CPM secretary Anil Biswas and Left Front chairman Biman Bose, who will also be in Hyderabad.

Amin was the acting chief minister when Bhattacharjee went to South Africa in 2001, Japan in 2002 and Italy last year. But with Bhattacharjee in the country, no minister had ever been asked to “officiate”, said a senior CPM leader.

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