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7 Jul 2018

Ritabrata on govt panel for tribals

Ritabrata Banerjee with Trinamul leader Anubrata Mondal in Calcutta on Friday.
Picture by Shyamal Maitra
TT, Calcutta : Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday appointed Ritabrata Banerjee the head of a committee for the welfare of tribals, positioning the expelled CPM leader as a bridge between her and the community after Trinamul's panchayat poll blows in pockets dominated by them.

The announcement followed a meeting between Mamata and tribal leaders from 12 districts. Other than Ritabrata, the panel will comprise two key representatives of each of the districts.

Ritabrata, 38, now an Independent member of the Rajya Sabha, has been known for his proximity to Trinamul since his expulsion from the CPM. Asked about the role, Ritabrata said: "It's time to work, not speak. I was yearning to do good work. This appointment is a vital opportunity."

Ritabrata was expelled by the CPM in September last year for "anti-party activities" following allegations related to "personal conduct".

Although there has been speculation he will join Trinamul at the party's annual July 21 rally, sources ruled out the possibility. Ritabrata's Rajya Sabha term ends in 2020 and joining Trinamul will lead to the cancellation of his membership and Mamata wants to avoid such "wastage", said the sources.

A senior Trinamul leader said Ritabrata had been a "de facto" member of the party and had been helping Mamata's cause in the Upper House for some time.

Ritabrata has defended his change of heart - he used to be a vocal critic of Mamata and her party while he was in the CPM - saying he had "realised" secular politics in India has no future without the Bengal chief minister's leadership.

But some questioned Ritabrata's new role. "Does he have any experience in tribal areas?" asked a Trinamul insider. According to the source, Ritabrata would have "higher" utility in Delhi, where Trinamul is in need of articulate spokespersons. At present, Rajya Sabha member Derek O'Brien single-handedly helms the party's communication.

Sources said the committee set up on Friday would co-ordinate with Mamata and work to control damage for Trinamul in tribal areas, where the party did not fare well in the May rural polls even as the BJP made significant inroads.

In her meeting with the tribal leaders on Friday, Mamata asked them to be on guard against "forces like the RSS". "The government is with you. Why should you allow outsiders or outfits, which aim to create disharmony in society, to work with your community?" Mamata was quoted as saying at the meeting with nearly 700 tribal leaders.

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