The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blend of compulsion & aspiration

Calcutta, May 18: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's new cabinet, sworn in today after being in the works for almost a week, signals a reconciliation of the compulsions of governance with pressure for berths from the districts, where the Left Front all but wiped out the Opposition in the elections.

The composition of the 44-member ministry led to the interpretation that the chief minister was unable to form a lean and youthful team in tune with his stated objectives thanks to the CPM district units.

The team sworn in by governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi at Raj Bhavan was a blend of old and new faces. Bhattacharjee received all members of the seventh front government when they came on the rostrum.

A first-time MLA, Deblina Hembram from Ranibandh, drew the largest applause from the guests, among them industrialists, academics, writers, film personalities and politicians, by taking the oath in her dialect, Santhali. Known for leading the CPM campaign against Maoists in Bankura, the new junior minister would be overseeing the department of backward classes.

Jyoti Basu, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, MP Brinda Karat, the chief minister, his wife Meera and daughter Suchetana clapped away even after Hembram had completed the formalities.

The new cabinet appeared to have been designed to balance the districts' political compulsions and aspirations. As a result, North and South 24-Parganas, the two Midnapores and Bankura ensured sizeable representation and a traditi- onal CPM stronghold, Burdwan, despite a good showing ' it returned 23 MLAs ' did not get more than two minis- ters, a drop of two.

The elevation of Kanti Ganguly and Sushanta Ghosh to the rank of cabinet minister, the installation of first-timer Rekha Goswami, also as a cabinet minister, and the induc- tion of the relatively unknown Chakradhar Maikap and Anwarul Haque are suggestive of Bhattacharjee's inability to blunt the districts' power.

Further proof was available in the continuation of Sailen Sarkar and Narayan Biswas.

Bhattacharjee had in private expressed the wish to have Sarkar removed from food processing and horticulture. He was partly successful in that he had the portfolio placed under his direct supervision. But Sarkar, a key player in Malda, managed to stay on in the ministry.

Biswas, whom Bhattacharjee had dropped for involvement in a criminal case, is also back. The South Dinajpur leadership told Alimuddin Street that his victory was 'indicative of our people's desire to see him as a minister'.

Addressing a felicitation outside Writers' Buildings after the swearing-in, Bhattacharjee said his government's objective would be to speed up industrialisation, combat corruption and improve the quality of life of the marginalised.

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