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Ajit Panja dies of cancer

Calcutta, Nov. 14: Ajit Panja, former Lok Sabha MP and Union minister, died of cancer in a Calcutta hospital this morning.

He was 72 and is survived by a son, a daughter and four granddaughters.

A widower, Ajit Panja had been shuttling between home and hospital since February. He had gone to Houston in March for treatment and returned to Mumbai in July. He came back to Calcutta in August and was admitted to a hospital on October 26 after his condition worsened.

Educated in Scottish Church College, Ajit Panja did his Bar-at-Law in 1959 and practised in Calcutta High Court and the Supreme Court.

He was elected to the Lok Sabha six times from the Calcutta northeast seat and was twice elected to the Assembly from Burtolla.

Ajit Panja lost his Lok Sabha seat to the CPM’s Mohammed Selim in the 2004 general elections after representing it for 20 years.

In the Calcutta Municipal Corporation polls in 2005, he was elected from ward 63 as a Trinamul councillor.

Ajit Panja was first elected to the Assembly in 1971 from Burtolla and became a minister for judiciary and parliamentary affairs in the Ajoy Mukherjee cabinet. He was re-elected in 1972 and became the minister for health and family planning in the Siddhartha Shankar Ray cabinet, a post that he kept till 1977. He became president of the Pradesh Congress Committee in 1980.

He was the Union minister of state for planning from 1985-86. In 1986, he was made minister of state for food and civil supplies and also took over as minister of state for information and broadcasting.

Between 1988 and 1989, he was minister of state for finance. Again from 1991-95, he was the minister of state for information and broadcasting as well as coal.

In 1998, he left the Congress with Mamata Banerjee, who floated the Trinamul Congress. The following year, he became the Trinamul MP from Calcutta northeast and was made minister of state for external affairs in the A.B. Vajpayee government.

He was also known for his portrayal of Ramkrishna in the play, Noti Binodini.

Ajit Panja was cremated around 4pm after the governor and politicians, including CPM leader Biman Bose, paid their last respects at his home in Girish Park. Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee sent a condolence message.

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