The Telegraph
Wednesday , March 9 , 2011
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mamata scouts for talent minus political colour
Abhirup Sarkar
Anil Chatterjee

Calcutta, March 8: Mamata Banerjee is on a talent hunt from outside the familiar circle of politicians and is on the lookout for professionals, preferably untainted by any political colour.

Assuming that she has to rule Bengal after the coming Assembly polls, she has approached some prominent professionals in fields such as education, health, finance and industry. The idea is to take her administration beyond politics and give it a professional look. Although not all those who she has approached have made commitments, she expects to spring some surprises.

Also, not all such people may contest the elections though some of them probably will. She would also like to keep her options open by roping in some such people after the elections. Among those she is believed to have approached are economist Abhirup Sarkar and land reforms expert Debabrata Bandopadhyay.

Sarkar told The Telegraph that he was approached by the Trinamul Congress to contest the polls but he had declined.

“I was approached by the Trinamul Congress chief. But I have told her — not any second person — that I will not contest,” Sarkar said. “That's for sure. After all, elections are a different ball game. However, there are other reasons but I don’t want to go into them.”

Sarkar added: “If Trinamul comes to power this time and I am inducted in an advisory capacity or as part of an advisory body, I may think about that or even accept.”

When asked if he had been approached by Trinamul, Bandopadhyay said: “I have not been approached so far.”

This exercise, however, is different from Mamata’s choice of film stars, ex-bureaucrats and former policemen whom she has nurtured in recent years. Most of these people, particularly film stars and celebrities, were picked for their popular appeal and also for expanding her reach beyond the usual lot of politicians.

Unlike the film stars and other cultural personalities, not many of these people are known for any specific political views or even for their public loyalty to Mamata or Trinamul. But Mamata sees this more as an asset than a liability. Such people, she hopes, can give the administration a non-partisan orientation.

Political parties in Bengal have generally kept professionals away from politics and government. The CPM, too, tried its hand at persuading film and cultural personalities to enter electoral politics. Anil Chatterjee was elected to the Assembly on a CPM ticket. But loyalty to the party was the only consideration in such cases.

The CPM’s experience with non-political personalities has been rather unhappy. Two such people who even became ministers — economist Ashok Mitra and former vice-chancellor of Jadavpur University Shankar Sen — ended up being as much unhappy with the party as the party was with them.

Asim Dasgupta does not quite belong to this category. Although a former academic with a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he comes from a family of CPM cardholders.

As the experience with Ashok Mitra demonstrated, the problem with non-political personalities working with the CPM and its government has been that they are forced to sing the party’s tune. As a result their professional skills would not matter in the party’s scheme of things.

Besides, the CPM, unlike the old CPI, has always been uncomfortable with educated people who are open-minded. If the party is disdainful of intellectuals who now support Mamata, it is a part of the CPM’s old anti-intellectual stance. Only those intellectuals who were loyal to the party were acceptable as such.

With Mamata, it’s quite the other way around. She herself has no intellectual pretensions but has no prejudice against them either. She knows that they can be useful up to a point.

But her search for professionals who could be used for administration is a part of a different strategy. She would like such people to help her turn around the administration and make a real difference from the Left regime where the party and the administration became one and the same thing.

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