The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Change proves hard for CPM
- Trouble with four ministries, leadership’s plans founder

Calcutta, May 16: Liquidating the Opposition in the elections was easy; structuring Team Buddha is proving far harder.

“The new cabinet will be announced only after our party state committee formally ratifies what we in the state secretariat decided today,” Jyoti Basu said this evening.

Till late evening, four key portfolios ' health, labour, information technology and sports, all with the CPM ' proved contentious.

The CPM state committee will go into session tomorrow and the Left Front soon after to accord the ceremonial nod to the decisions taken by the party’s state secretariat at two sessions spread over five and a half hours today.

At the two sessions, the CPM leadership ran into resistance to its plan to name a new health minister in place of incumbent Surjya Kanta Mishra, whose performance has come under attack in the past five years.

“Consider dropping me altogether if I am forced to part with the health portfolio,” Mishra was quoted as saying at the meeting.

A qualified doctor, Mishra thinks he will lose his perch in West Midnapore ' he is a key player in the district CPM ' where his not-so-insignificant detractors are pressing the leadership to shake him up.

Mishra’s resistance took the CPM leadership by surprise because he had been informed in advance of the intended change, to which he too had given his consent, said CPM officials connected with the ministry-making exercise.

“It (resistance) may have been prompted by the realisation that Asim Dasgupta (finance) and Manab Mukherjee (IT), who too were originally identified as candidates for a shuffle, have been able to stay on through lobbying,” they said.

Mukherjee’s position is still not all that certain, though.

It looks almost certain the leadership will allow Mishra to retain health but only after downsizing him. He may lose two important departments ' panchayat and rural development ' to land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah and Mohanta Chatterjee, a rookie with Peasant Front background, respectively.

At one point the leadership had considered shifting Mishra to land and land reforms only to apparently abandon it in favour of trimming his responsibilities.

The leadership also had to drop its original plans for Dasgupta and Subhas Chakraborty (transport) who, thanks to intervention by Jyoti Basu, would be able to continue in their posts. Though the chief minister had made it clear that he would like the two portfolios to be handled by new ministers, he had to accept the old order.

Basu, Chakraborty’s mentor, was present at both the sessions which addressed, among other things, taking away sports from Chakraborty and assigning it either to Asok Bhattacharya in addition to urban development or to a newcomer like Manas Mukherjee, an MLA from North 24-Parganas. Chakraborty has the support of party secretary Biman Bose, too, though the chief minister is believed to be in favour of taking away sports that gives him control over Salt Lake and other stadiums.

With Bhattacharjee maintaining silence, the Burdwan lobby pressed the leadership to make a change in IT, preferably bringing in Debesh Das. A move is still on to task Mukherjee with environment, which he already has, and cottage and small-scale industries.

After power minister Mrinal Banerjee declined to take additional charge of labour, Sushanta Ghosh, now a junior minister, is being considered for the portfolio with enhanced status. Also on the radar screen are Ranjit Kundu, Nikhil Mukherjee and Dilip Sarkar, all close to state Citu president Shyamal Chakraborty, for labour.

The allies, especially the Forward Bloc and RSP, will retain the old portfolios.

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