Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee on Thursday appointed Chhatradhar Mahato, a former leader of the Maoist-backed PCAPA, to the party's state committee as she announced a major reshuffle in the organisation, giving leadership roles to new faces with an eye on next year's assembly elections in West Bengal.
Axing some old guards, Banerjee at an internal meeting announced a new state committee with 21 members in it and a seven-member core panel, which is a first for the party.
The most significant appointment to the state committee is that of Mahato, who was a prominent leader of the Lalgarh Movement that was spearheded by the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities (PCAPA) and backed by Maoists in the late 2000s.
He was set free in February this year by the West Bengal government following a reduction of his life term to 10 years by Calcutta High Court for his good conduct.
Mahato was arrested on September 26, 2009 by police from present-day Jhargram district for an attempt on the life of former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Kantapahari area of West Midnapore district on November 2, 2008.
He has been named in several cases related to alleged Maoist activities with charges levelled under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA.
Mahato's appointment is believed to have been made in a bid to revive the party's organisation in the Jangal Mahal region where the BJP made big gains in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
Besides, the TMC supremo also appointed expelled CPI (M) leader and former Rajya Sabha member Ritabrata Bandopadhyay to the state committee. Ritabrata, once a strong critic of the chief minister and TMC, was expelled by the CPI(M) in 2017 for "anti-party" activities.
Banerjee also named disgruntled leaders Rajib Banerjee and Sadhan Pande -- both ministers -- to the state committee and the state coordination committee, respectively.
They have been vocal against the party in the recent past. The core panel, formally called the Steering Committee of the State Coordination Committee, will have party general secretary Subrata Bakshi, secretary general Partha Chatterjee, Firhad Hakim, Suvendu Adhikari, Gautam Deb, Abhishek Banerjee and Shanta Chetri. It will report directly to Banerjee.
Besides, the presidents of several districts, including Howrah, Coochbehar, Purulia, Nadia, Bankura, Jhargram and South Dinajpur were removed, and new faces were given charge of these districts.
Former Indian cricketer and MLA Laxmi Ratan Shukla was made the president of Howrah, former MP Partha Pratim Roy was given the charge of Coochbehar, Gurupada Tudu of Purulia and Shyamal Santra of Bankura.
Lok Sabha MP Mahua Moitra was made the district president of Nadia, Gautam Das was made president of South Dinajpur, and Dulal Murmu was given charge of Jhargram.
Anindya Routh was made president of TMC's Kolkata South organisational district, among others. Among the significant leaders who faced the axe are Arup Roy, the present district president of Howrah, Aroop Biswas of South Kolkata and Rabindra Nath Ghosh of Coochbehar. All of them are cabinet ministers in the state government.
The post of district observers has been scraped, and instead the core panel will coordinate with the districts. Also, the party created a new post of district chairman, which is being considered ceremonial, to accommodate veterans ahead of the state polls. The reshuffle has been done keeping in mind several factors.
First, in areas where the BJP has gained ground. Secondly, in areas where there have been several complaints of infighting, also to ensure a combination of old and young. Attempts have also been made to give disgruntled but effective leaders important roles, a senior TMC leader privy to the developments said.
The change in leadership in Bankura, Nadia, Purulia, Jhargram, Coochbehar and South Dinajpur was necessitated as BJP has gained much ground in those districts and the present leadership failed to put up a fight, he said.
The change of guard in Howarh and other districts was in the offing as the top brass wanted to put a hatch on the infighting which was taking a heavy toll on the party's prospects, another senior TMC leader said.
The party also made some changes in its youth wing. West Bengal is scheduled to go on polls in April-May next year with Banerjee completing a decade in office.
The leadership changes within the party were expected amid growing challenge from the BJP, which has emerged as the main opposition party by winning 18 out of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2019, bringing down the TMC's tally to 22 from 34.