A RAINBOW CABINET
India Today|May 24, 2021
Mamata Banerjee ensures broad representation for women, Muslims, SCs/STs and first-timers in her 43-member cabinet while entrusting core ministries to party veterans
Romita Datta

One of the dominant themes of Mamata Banerjee’s assembly election campaign was the idea of an inclusive West Bengal that had something to offer to all its citizens, cutting across religion, caste, gender and social status. Public endorsement of it came as her party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), won the election with a handsome 213 of the total 294 seats. ‘Inclusive Bengal’ now finds reflection in Mamata’s 43-member cabinet that took the oath of office on May 10. The team consists of nine women, seven Muslims, eight SC/ST MLAs and professionals from diverse fields—an actor, a cricketer, a theatre personality, a singer and two doctors. In all, there are 15 new faces.

Of the eight SC/ST ministers, four are from Bankura, Purulia, Jhargram and West Midnapore districts. In the 2019 general election, these areas had voted in favour of the BJP, which won five of the six Lok Sabha seats in these four districts. In terms of legislative assembly strength, this should have meant 32 seats for the saffron party. In this election, the TMC breached the BJP turf, winning 26 of the 40 seats in these districts. The BJP’s attempts at Hindu consolidation did not pay off. Tribal voters felt the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva campaign threatened to overrun their own sacred altars of worship. Adivasi boys—with saffron uttariya around their necks and red tilak on foreheads— campaigning for the BJP did not go down well with the tribal people.

TRIBAL IDENTITY

Recognising the contribution of STs, especially adivasi women, in her victory, Mamata has given cabinet berths to three ‘daughters of the soil’ from the remote villages of Jhargram, Bankura and Purulia—Santhali film star and Jhargram MLA Birbaha Hansda, Jyotsna Mandi and Sandhya Rani Tudu.

Hansda has been appointed junior minister of forests. This seems an appropriate assignment as she represents the tribal people of Jangalmahal who depend heavily on forest land and produce for their daily needs. Hansda is the daughter of tribal politicians Naren Hansda and Chunibala Hansda. The Santhali panchi sari she wore for the oathtaking ceremony at Raj Bhawan was an assertion of her tribal identity, culture and customs.

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