Months ahead of the panchayat polls in West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee Wednesday carried out a major ministerial reshuffle, inducting eight new ministers, including two who quit the Congress recently, besides changing some key portfolios.
One minister -- Shyamal Mandal, in charge of the Sundarbans Affairs department -- was dropped.
Most of the new joinees hail from rural areas, which are slated to go to the polls by the middle of next year to elect over 50,000 members to the crucial three-tier panchayat administration in the state.
Krishnendu Narayan Chowdhury and Humayun Kabir, both of whom resigned as Congress legislators Tuesday, were inducted into the 18-month old Trinamool Congress ministry, in what is being seen as Banerjee's efforts to weaken her former alliance partner in its strongholds in the state.
Chowdhury, who was made cabinet minister for tourism -- a key department considering the government's ambitious plans in the sector -- had won last year's assembly election from Englishbazar in Malda district.
Kabir, sworn-in as a minister of state for animal husbandry, represented Rezinagar in Murshidabad district.
Malda and Murshidabad are considered the strongest forts of Congress in the state where the party has been steadily losing space to the Trinamool over the years.
Malda was once a pocket-borough of late railway minister Barkat Ghani Khan Chowdhury, and the strong Congress organisation there is now controlled by his family members.
The writ of Banerjee's bete noire and union minister of state for railways Adhir Chowdhury runs in Murshidabad.
Kabir's inclusion is considered a big blow to Adhir Chowdhury, as the new minister has for long been his protegee.
Governor M.K. Narayanan administered the oath of office and secrecy to 13 ministers, including two new cabinet ministers Krishnendu and Rajib Banerjee, one new minister of state (independent charge) and five fresh ministers of state.
Four ministers of state were promoted to the cabinet rank, and another to the minister of state (independent charge) status. The strength of the ministry has now gone up to 44.
The reshuffle also took care of the empty ministerial slots since six Congress ministers resigned Sep 22, after Trinamool Congress withdrew support from the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Peasant leader Becharam Manna, who emerged as the grassroots level face of the Banerjee-led movement against the Tata Motors Nano car plant in Hooghly district's Singur village during the last leg of the Left Front rule, was also sworn in as a minister of state.
The anti-land acquisition movements in Singur and Nandigram in East Midnapore district played a big part in Trinamool's victory in last year's assembly polls, ending the Left Front's 34-year uninterrupted rule in the state.
Rachpal Singh, who held the tourism portfolio, was shunted to the less important planning and development, agriculture minister Rabindranath Bhattacharya was moved to the Department of Statistics and Programme Implementation while the Department of Technical Education and Training was taken away from Rabiranjan Chatterjee, who will now look after only Science.
Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Chandrima Bhattacharya was given the additional responsibility as Minister of State of Law and Judicial Affairs (Independent Charge).
Moloy Ghatak was shifted to agriculture from law and judicial affairs.