Though the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the West Bengal Assembly elections in March to Mamata Banerjee but securing 77 seats by the saffron brigade didn’t go unnoticed before the central leadership as Prime Minister Narendra Modi rewarded Shantanu Thakur, Nisith Pramanik, Dr Subhas Sarkar and John Barla with a ministerial post on Wednesday.
A new Ministry of Cooperation has been created to “strengthen the cooperative movement in the country". With an eye on Assembly polls in five states in 2022 and the 2024 national election — the cabinet reshuffle seems to be very crucial for the BJP to retain the fort nationally.
Shantanu Thakur – The Matua Factor
Shantanu Thakur is an influential Matua ‘dharma guru’ and BJP Lok Sabha MP from Bongaon seat since 2019. He has been actively involved in spreading the thoughts and idealism of Matua culture all over India for the last 20 years as a leader of All India Matua Mahasangha.
Thakur, 38, is the son of former Bengal Minister Manjul Krishna Thakur (who was in TMC). He did his Advance Diploma in Hospitality Management from Victoria University in Sydney, Australia.
From September 13, 2019, he has been the member of the Standing Committee on Commerce, and Consultative Committee of Ministry of Rural Development and Ministry of Panchayati Raj.
Shantanu helped BJP immensely in making a strong platform in Matua dominated areas in Bengal. It was his hard work which helped the BJP to win most of the Matua dominated seats in the last Lok Sabha in 2019 and the 2021 Assembly polls.
For decades, political parties such as Congress, CPI (M) and TMC looked at Matuas for their electoral gains till Narendra Modi’s ascent to power in 2014 who actively worked on the pending citizenship issue.
Knowing the resentment among the people over the citizenship issue — Shantanu actively worked on citizenship issues to convince the Matuas in favour of BJP. In the 2019 Lok Sabha, he defeated TMC heavyweight candidate Mamata Thakur from Bongaon in North 24-Parganas.
Before the state polls — there were speculations that he may quit BJP over his differences with the Central party leaders over delay in the implementation of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
He even questioned home minister Amit Shah that the Centre should clarify their stand over the implementation of the CAA in West Bengal.
Despite his resentment over delay in the implementation of CAA, Thakur never crossed the party line and worked hard in securing 11 Matua dominated seats out of 14 in Bongaon and Ranaghat Lok Sabha constituencies.
His differences with the BJP were resolved after he accompanied PM Modi to Bangladesh during his visit to Orakandi (on March 27) where Sri Sri Harichand Thakur ji (Matua visionary) spread his message on humanity.
In Bongaon Lok Sabha seats (covering parts of Nadia and North 24-Parganas districts), Shantanu along with other influential Matua leaders including his brother Subrata Thakur helped BJP to secure six seats including Kalyani (SC), Haringhata (SC), Bagda (SC), Bangaon Uttar (SC), Bangaon Dakshin (SC) and Gaighata (SC).
Similarly, in Ranaghat Lok Sabha seats — Shantanu helped BJP secure five assembly seats out of seven including Nabadwip, Santipur, Krishnaganj (SC), Ranaghat Uttar Purba (SC) and Ranaghat Dakshin (SC). Two seats Chakdaha and Ranaghat Uttar Paschim went to TMC.
In a nut shell, Shantanu and his team helped BJP in securing 11 seats out of 14 Assembly seats dominated by the Matua community. According to political experts, this the one of the reasons he was rewarded today by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Nisith Pramanik — The Rajbonshi factor in North Bengal
Nisith Pramanik, 35, is also an influential Rajbongshi leader in North Bengal where BJP has grown exponentially since 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Even in the 2021 Assembly polls, Nisith and John Barla and their team helped the BJP secure 30 of 54 seats in North Bengal.
The reason why Shantanu Thakur, Nisith Pramanik and John Barla trio was inducted in the Modi’s new cabinet today because they together helped the BJP secure 41 seats (nearly 53.25 %) of total 77 seats won by the party in the assembly polls.
Rajbonshi and the other tribal communities such as Kamtapuri have been demanding an identity-based representation from the state for long and the induction of Nisith and Barla could be seen as the BJP’s strategy to hold its ground in North Bengal against Mamata Banerjee.
“BJP wanted to ensure that it does not lose ground to TMC in North Bengal and therefore Nisith and Barla were inducted in the party,” a political expert said.
Nisith started his political journey as a youth leader of the TMC. However, due to differences with CM Banerjee he fielded nearly 300 candidates as Independents against TMC candidates and many of them managed to win the panchayat elections in 2018.
He joined BJP in New Delhi on February 28, 2019 was fielded for the Cooch Behar Lok Sabha constituency, which was won by TMC in the 2016 by-election.
Nisith drew the attention of the BJP central leaders after he defeated strong TMC candidate Paresh Chandra Adhikari from Cooch Behar in 2019 Lok Sabha Polls with a margin of about 54,000 votes.
In 2021 Assembly Polls, BJP has fielded Nisith (sitting Lok Sabha MP) from the Dinhata Assembly constituency against two-time Trinamool Congress MLA Udyan Guha. Though the margin was nearly 60 seats, Nisith managed to wrest the seat from Udyan.
Nisith was born on January 17, 1986, in Dinhata. He did Bachelors of Computer Applications (BCA). He has as many as 11 cases pending against him.
John Barla: Wooing Tribal Sentiment of North Bengal
John Barla, a follower of legendary freedom fighter Birsa Munda, was elected to the Lok Sabha from Alipurduar, West Bengal in the 2019 General Election.
He started his political journey in 2007 by joining the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad (ABAVP).
He also worked as an active worker of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha (JMM) but in 2014 he joined the BJP. He contested the 2016 assembly elections from Nagrakata but lost.
In 2018, before the panchayat elections, he was arrested for violating law and order in the area. Later, he was released and in the 2019 Lok Sabha poll, BJP fielded him from Alipurduar seat and he won with a margin of 2,43,000.
Recently, John Barla landed in a controversy after he demanded a separate state for north Bengal, citing lack of development in the region.
Barla’s demand has evoked strong political reactions and a couple of police complaints lodged against him by TMC leaders.
Dr Subhas Sarkar was born on August 25, 1953 and he is a doctor by profession. He was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bankura, West Bengal, in the 2019 General Election as a member of the BJP.
Those Who Resigned
With the induction of Shantanu Thakur, Nitish Pramanik and John Barla in the new cabinet –Babul Supriyo (Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change) and Debashree Chaudhuri were dropped from PM Modi’s cabinet.
When Debashree Chaudhuri was made the minister of state in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet in 2019 – it came as a surprise to many (given the fact that she was not a prominent leader in state politics).
However, many in the state who are with the BJP for decades can only describe Debashree and his family’s contribution as grass root leaders with strong RSS imprint which helped the party in increasing their vote share in the bordering areas of West Bengal.
For her hard work, she was rewarded and made the general secretary of the party’s Bengal unit and later she was made MoS in the ministry of women and child development in PM Modi’s cabinet in 2019.
Her father, Debi Das Chaudhuri, was a high schoolteacher and president of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (BJS) from 1967 to 1980 in Balurghat in undivided Dinajpur district (later it was separated into South and North Dinajpur). The BJS was the political arm of the RSS.
During his stint as the president, Emergency was declared in India in 1975 and several leaders of the BJS were arrested. Though it was difficult for BJS leaders to work during the Congress and Left rule in Bengal, Debashree and her family still served the party.
Born on January 31, 1971, Debashree recalls the struggles the family faced. “There was struggle and crisis but we all managed to overcome it because of my mother Ratna. She was a force behind all of us which gave us inspiration to move forward. I have one sister and two brothers and the common link among us is service to the nation. All of us are attached either to the BJP or Sangha,” she had said.
She was an active member of ABVP at Burdwan University, and in 2001, she joined the state BJP. Since then she moved forward with her father’s baton (who died in 2010) to serve the BJP.
Debashree did her Masters from Burdwan University and she briefly worked for a private company in Kolkata from 1995 to 1996. She contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Bardhaman-Durgapur seat of West Bengal but was defeated by a TMC candidate. In the 2019 Lok Sabha, she won Raiganj seat by defeating sitting CPI (M) MP Md. Salim by 3,28,552 votes and TMC’s Kanailal Agarwal by 60,593 votes.
Playback singer Babul Supriyo’s political journey started in 2014 when he defeated TMC’s Dola Sen from the Asansol Lok Sabha constituency.
On November 9, 2014, he became the Union Minister of State, Ministry of Urban Development, and Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation.
In July 2016, his portfolio was changed to Minister of State for Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises.
In 2019 Lok Sabha polls, BJP once again fielded him and he successfully managed to defeat actress-turned-politician Moon Moon Sen by 1.97 lakh votes. Impressed with his performance, the party in May 2019 made him the Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
However, his luck ran into rough weather after BJP fielded him from the Tollygunge in the 2021 Assembly polls and he lost against TMC’s Aroop Biswas.
He was born on December 15, 1970 in Uttarpara in Hooghly district. He did his schooling at Don Bosco School and later earned a B. Com degree from Serampore College.
Babul Supriyo used to work at the Standard Chartered Bank but later he decided to pursue singing as a full-time career. In 1992, he moved to Mumbai to make a career in Bollywood and since then there is no looking back.