KOLKATA: The Centre’s decision of axing two Ministers for State from West Bengal and drafting fresh four Bengal BJP MPs in the Union Cabinet appears to be well-designed, with an eye on balancing the caste and regional equations in the state.
BJP did not do well in the recent Assembly polls. But around half of the 77 seats they won came from north Bengal and SC-dominated regions. The four new ministers represent various communities and ethnic groups. Two of them are from north Bengal. Cooch Behar MP Nisith Pramanik (Home Affairs and Sports) represents Rajbongshis, the largest faction of the state’s SC community. Alipurduar MP John Barla (Minority Affairs) is the tribal face of the tea garden region.
Bongaon MP Shantanu Thakur (Port, Shipping, Waterways) belongs to the Matua community, which is a Hindu religious sect of SC refugees from Bangladesh. Bankura MP Subhas Sarkar (Education) was the other one chosen. He is known to have done well for BJP in the Jungle Mahal belt.
‘‘Rajbongshis form around 40% of the electorates in north Bengal and the community has a stake of nearly 20% in the Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar regions. Selection of two MPs from this region clearly indicates that the party doesn’t want to lose its Rajbongshi and tribal vote share achieved since the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,’’ said a BJP leader in Kolkata.
North Bengal has proven to be the saffron camp’s stronghold in the last two elections. The region has 54 Assembly seats, of which BJP won 30. In the remaining 240, BJP secured victory only in 37.
Barla recently raised a demand that north Bengal should become a separate Union Territory. Although the party did not officially endorse his view, naming him in the Cabinet suggests he remains an important figure in the scheme of things. “Separate statehood has been a long-standing demand of Gorkhas in the hills and Rajbongshis in the foothills. The inclusion of Barla in the Cabinet sends a message that the Centre is not ignoring local sentiments,” said the leader.
Thakur had on several occasions expressed discontent over the issue of non-implementation of CAA, a promise BJP had made before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to grant Matua refugees citizenship. “BJP performed well in Matua strongholds. Since implementation of CAA seems impossible now, Thakur was rewarded to ease out the discontent of Matuas, who will be needed in 2024 LS polls,’’ said another leader.