Former union minister Ajit Panja is dead (Lead)

November 14th, 2008 - 2:13 pm ICT by IANS  

Kolkata, Nov 14 (IANS) Former union minister and veteran Trinamool Congress leader Ajit Panja died here Thursday after a long battle with oral cancer. He was 72. The politician, who also dabbled in acting and wrote several books, is survived by a son and a daughter.

He was admitted to a private city hospital on Oct 25 and put on life-support system Thurday after his condition worsened.

A renowned barrister, Panja had handled various portfolios in the ministries of three prime ministers - Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Known for his administrative acumen and electioneering and public relations skills, Panja joined the Congress in the late 1960s, and became a legislator in 1971 from the Burtola seat, which he also won twice later in 1972 and 1982.

He joined the cabinet of West Bengal chief minister Ajoy Mukherjee as judiciary and parliamentary affairs (home) minister in 1971, and a year later took charge of the health, family planning, rural water supply, Calcutta Corporation, Municipal Affairs and Forests Development departments under chief minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray.

Panja, who won the Kolkata East Lok Sabha constituency six times consecutively from 1984 to 1999 before losing in the 2004 election, was twice given independent charge as minister of state of the key information and broadcasting ministry (1986-1988 and 1991-1993).

In 1985, he was made the union minister of state for planning, and later allocated food and civil supplies, and finance by Gandhi.

Between 1991 and 1993, Panja was union minister of state (independent charge of coal) in the Narasimha Rao regime.

In 1998, he left the Congress and joined the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee and became the union minister of state for external affairs in the National Democratic Alliance government of Vajpayee

He resigned from the Vajpayee ministry in 2001, when the Trinamool snapped ties with the NDA. At the time of his death, Panja was a councillor of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation.

Panja became a member of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) in 1973 and was appointed West Bengal Pradesh Congress president in 1980. He continued in the post till 1981.

A man of many parts, Panja was a versatile actor and a writer.

On the stage, he played with great distinction the role of Sri Ramakrishna in the successful Bengali production “Nati Binodini”, which had 151 shows in India and abroad.

Panja bagged the Uttam Award and Kalakar award for his acting in the play, which was staged at various places including London, Washington, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Bristol, besides the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

He also wrote several books and booklets including “Encephalitis Attack in West Bengal”; “Ganatantra Hatya” (Bengali); “Siksha Khethre Nairajya” (Bengali); “Dunkel Agreement” (Bengali) and “Mining Medicines Hand Book for Health Workers and Mine Workers”.

Born on Sept 13, 1936 in Kolkata (then called Calcutta), Panja studied at the Scottish Church College, Calcutta University and Lincoln’s Inn (London).

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