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Didi’s liberal, minority face

Mamata Banerjee’s chant: Bengal has everything: hills, seas and forests: we need to put it on the tourist map. Her lieutenant Sultan Ahmed’s resolve: “Will do it sooner than later.”

india Updated: Aug 20, 2009 23:51 IST
Kumkum Chadha

Mamata Banerjee’s chant: Bengal has everything: hills, seas and forests: we need to put it on the tourist map.

Her lieutenant Sultan Ahmed’s resolve: “Will do it sooner than later.”

On top of the list is a cruise service between Benaras and Kolkata within three months.

That is why Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee likes him.

Fact-o-meter

Sultan Ahmed (56) Minister of State for Tourism
Inspiration:Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s spirit
Fear factor:Distrust among communities
Aim: To remain surrounded by people
Our take:Intelligent guy who speaks his mind

Apart from being hell-bent on putting her thoughts into action, the Minister of State for Tourism is low key and mild mannered. In politics, he follows her mantra of accessibility.

Step into his ministerial office in New Delhi and it is like a railway platform. There are people all around — all kinds. Unlike most others, Ahmed is not power struck — neither his office nor he is out of bounds for anyone. Just walk in and you get him.

His other asset: he is the Trinamool’s minority face. After the death of Akbar Ali Khondekar, an MP, Banerjee was desperate to fill the gap. And Ahmed fitted the bill. His subsequent election as a Member of Parliament came as relief to party managers. Said MP Somen Mitra: “He’s a loveable guy and a good organiser. Excellent at man management, a mature politician.”

Ahmed is also seen as the Muslim community’s liberal face. His track record has been one of a moderate. This worked, particularly in Uluberia, an urban constituency on Kolkata’s outskirts, which sent him to the Lok Sabha.

Like many in the Trinamool Congress, Ahmed began his political career by joining the Congress, his mentor being Priyaranjan Dasmunsi. He joined Banerjee 10 years ago.

“Inconsistent,” said Robin Deb of the Left Front. “He switched parties, changed constituencies and is also shifty about his views on religion. Sometimes he poses as a liberal and sometimes as a fundamentalist,” Deb added.

Despite being a Banerjee-devotee, Ahmed talks a great deal about Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi. He said he wept like a child when Indira Gandhi died.