Seniors off the bench, Mamata Banerjee faces challenge to address void in government

Death of a veteran Minister and non-availability of a senior Minister have put up a challenge before Mamata

Death of a veteran Minister and the non-availability of a senior Minister have put up a challenge before West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee in addressing the leadership void in the government.

Subrata Mukherjee, who held the key Panchayat department, passed away on November 4. Finance Minister Amit Mitra stayed away from the Assembly polls and also from the recent bypolls, and by not getting elected to the Assembly, he is almost on his way out from the Cabinet.

Not only the two veterans held key portfolios, they also brought in huge experience and expertise on various issues. Mukherjee had a political career spanning over five decades and was one of youngest Ministers in the Siddhartha Sankar Ray government in the 1970s. He was also the Kolkata Mayor. He was behind the implementation of schemes at the grassroot levels, including the 100 days of work MGNREGA scheme.

Mr. Mitra, who has been the Finance Minister for the past 10 years, played a key role in allocating funds to several populist schemes, which at times required allocation of huge resources. He also held the portfolio of Industry and Commerce for a considerable period of time, trying to sell the industry-starved State as a favourable investment destination.

Adviser appointment likely

Despite the unavailability of Mr. Mitra , the Chief Minister is keen that her government receives his counsel. She may appoint him as an adviser to the government in some capacity.

The Chief Minister is already in charge of key portfolios such as Home and Hill Affairs, Health and Family Welfare, Information and Cultural Affairs, Minority Affairs. She may keep Finance with her, while the Panchayat department may have a new Minister.

Political observer and psephologist Biswanath Chakraborty said that with the passing away of Mukherjee and Mr. Mitra’s unavailability to discharge functions as a Minister, there are not many in the Cabinet who are senior to Ms. Banerjee.

“The government, particularly the Chief Minister, will miss the political acumen of Subrata Mukherjee and the economic wisdom of Mr. Mitra.,” said Professor Chakraborty, who is the Head of the Department, Political Science, Rabindra Bharati University.

The Trinamool Congress has 217 MLAs in the Assembly, which has a strength of 294 legislators. Therefore, inducting new Ministers or giving additional responsibility to Ministers is not a tough task.

Political observers like Professor Chakraborty feel that the Trinamool Congress is at its height of political dominance in the State and its influence can be compared to the heydays of the Left Front. Since people have overwhelmingly supported the Trinamool Congress in the recent Assembly polls, it will have to hand over ministerial responsibility of crucial portfolios like Finance and Panchayat to the best of its leaders.

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