Most leaders invited for PM's Thursday meet on J&K reach Delhi

Express News Service
KOLKATA: The Centre’s decision to axe two Bengal ministers and induction of four fresh faces from the state appears to be a well-designed move eyeing the saffron camp’s political dividend balancing castes and regions.

Since the victory in the party’s half of the seats in the recent Assembly elections came from north Bengal and Dalit-dominated regions, the four ministers will represent various communities and ethnic groups. As the BJP bagged 30 out of its 77 seats from North Bengal keeping its fortress untouched, two MPs from the region were given berths in the ministry.

Cooch Behar MP Nisith Pramanik, who represents Rajbongshis, the largest faction of the state’s Dalit community, took oath as minister for state (Home Affairs and Sports) and Alipurduar MP John Barla, the tribal face of the tea garden region, was sworn in as the minister for the state (Minority Affairs).

Two others — Bongaon MP Shantanu Thakur, who belongs to the Matua community, and Bankura MP Subhas Sarkar — were inducted as the minister for the state (Port, Shipping, Waterways) and minister for the state (Education) respectively.

“Rajbongshis form around 40% of the total electorates in north Bengal and the Dalit community has a stake of nearly 20% in the Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar regions. The selection of two MPs from the region clearly indicates the party doesn’t want to lose its Rajbongshi and tribal vote share that it had achieved in the Assembly elections,” said a BJP leader in Kolkata.      

North Bengal proved to be the saffron camp’s stronghold in the two previous elections. Thirty seats in the region, which has 54 constituencies, went to BJP. In the rest of 240 seats, BJP managed to secure victory only in 37.

Recently, Barla raised demand in favour of north Bengal’s separation repeatedly and its inclusion in the list of Union Territories. “Separate statehood has been a long-standing demand of Gorkhas in the Hills and Rajbongshis in the foothills. The inclusion of Barla in the Union cabinet sends a message that the Centre is not ignoring the sentiment of the locals,” said the leader.

Matuas’ representative MP Shantanu Thakur had expressed his discontent on several occasions over the issue of the non-implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, a promise that the BJP had made ahead of the 2019 general elections to give Hindu refugees from Bangladesh citizenship. “Though the Act is yet to be implemented, BJP performed well in Matuas’s strongholds. Since the implementation of the Act is not happening anytime now, Thakur was drafted in the Union ministry to ease out Matuas’ further discontent which might cause a jolt to the party in the 2024 Lok Sabha polls,” said another BJP leader.

Taking Bankura MP Sarkar in the Union Cabinet was another move to retain BJP’s existing support base in the Jungle Mahal. “Compared to the 2019 Lok Sabha poll results, our party’s performance was not impressive in the region’s tribal areas. His inclusion was not only aimed to retain the existing vote bank but also regain the vote share lost to the ruling TMC,” said the leader.