|Bratya Basu after being removed as education minister. Picture
by Mayukh Sengupta
Calcutta, May 27: Bratya Basu has been removed as education minister of Bengal, marking a season of post-poll retribution that got accelerated by a bungled plan to settle scores with sections of the civil society that do not tow the official line.
Shunting Basu to another department (tourism, as it turned out) was long in the making. But the immediate trigger appears to have been the minister’s stand on the detention of filmmaker Suman Mukhopadhyay in connection with an alleged incident in a hotel.
Basu, also a theatre director and actor, is learnt to have put in a word with the Trinamul leadership in favour of Mukhopadhyay who was questioned by police for almost 24 hours from Sunday evening.
Officially, the matter is still under investigation but sources said the police could not make out any case against Mukhopadhyay, one of the few members of the cultural fraternity who speaks out against the Mamata Banerjee government and was not seen on the Trinamul campaign trail.
Partha Chatterjee, who replaced Basu in education, played down Mukhopadhyay’s detention. “He isn’t such a big figure that the government would have to run after him. Ekta beral-ke pump diye bagh banano hochchhe (a cat is being pumped up to make it look like a tiger). The police had a specific complaint and interrogated him, otherwise they wouldn’t have done so,” the new education minister said.
The action against Basu was announced in the form of a cabinet shuffle a day before Mamata reviews the performance of her ministers.
Chatterjee has been rewarded with the education portfolio after he lost the effective No. 2 position to Amit Mitra in December. The education berth for Chatterjee is being seen as an acknowledgement of his contribution in breaking new ground in north Bengal and helping Abhishek Banerjee, the chief minister’s nephew, to win the Diamond Harbour Lok Sabha seat.
Information technology, one of the two ministries left with Chatterjee when he was earlier stripped of commerce and industries and public enterprises, will now be handled by Mitra.
The chief minister also used the opportunity to crack the whip on ministers whose squabbles were blamed for Trinamul, which won 34 of the 42 seats, not doing well in Malda and Murshidabad.
Krishnendu Chowdhury, who had joined Trinamul from the Congress, has been shifted out of tourism that has gone to Basu. Chowdhury will look after food processing and horticulture. Sabitri Mitra and Subrata Saha have been taken off social welfare and food processing and horticulture and made ministers without portfolio.
Sashi Panja, minister of state (independent charge) heading the women and child department, has been given the additional responsibility of social welfare.
But the focus remained fixed on Basu’s removal. Some sources said the chief minister did not take kindly to Basu’s attempts to act as “a civil society protagonist” by advocating restraint on Mukhopadhyay.
Basu was part of the cast in Mukhopadhyay’s debut film, Herbert, and they have collaborated on a couple of theatre productions.
Some other sources also saw in the demotion the isolation of “outsiders” within Trinamul. An element of resentment has been at play since Mamata started depending on the so-called culture clan, bypassing the party ranks.
Few would have dared voice such latent reservations but it might also have ensured that there was none to stand by Basu when the going got tough.
Indeed, Trinamul insiders referred to controversies on education to suggest that the decision to remove Basu was linked to performance alone.
They claimed that Mamata was unhappy with Basu in the aftermath of the Teacher Eligibility Test fiasco, where thousands of candidates had complained of irregularities.
The allegations largely revolved around favouritism towards the supporters of the ruling party — an uncommon and unlikely reason for removing a minister. In fact, Bengal has a history of rewarding ministers who favour their party supporters.