“No Left Turn” For Bengal
Three decades is not a short period. However, if one whispers at the ears of either Mao Zedong or Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe or Hosni Mubarak or for that matter Muammar Gaddafi so as to ask if three decades are enough; then one unequivocal answer is expected: “No, not at all.” Well, Chairman Mao is no more. So this thought experiment may be performed with the other protagonists.
For our very own ‘Marxists’ in West Bengal (hereafter Bengal), the situation is no different. The security atmosphere may be a bit dissimilar compared to what Mr Gaddafi is facing in Tripoli; but the dissent, disgruntlement and disenchantment of the populace is by normal probabilistic estimates more than what Gaddafi is countering at present. Nevertheless, whether this disillusionment of the masses shall get translated into the ‘benign revenge’ of the electorate; is what is to be discovered in the second week of May, when the results of the Bengal Assembly elections would be public.
Till then, nonetheless, Bengal is bound to witness an admixture of political demagogy, hooliganism and Maoist anarchy on one hand and authoritative wielding of the election commission along with the march of the central paramilitary forces on the other.
In this election season, political fisticuffs started on an extremely polite note when Subrata Bakshi, a leader of the main opposition party Trinamool Congress (TC) filed a complaint to the Election Commission (EC) regarding the violation of the model code of conduct by none other than Bengal’s Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta. Already in a financial mess, the latter was charged for ‘hurriedly’ signing a number of files at his office in Writers’ Buildings (seat of the government) even after the EC’s model code of conduct came into operation on March 1. Things didn’t turn out to be easy for Dasgupta. The state government had to send an inquiry report against its own Finance Minister to the EC.
Dasgupta is surely not the only one to have faced the axe during this jittery and testing period for the official Left in Bengal. Definitely, he is a high-profile and suave Left politician who has carved a niche in the national milieu as he chaired the Empowered Group of Ministers looking into the applicability of the Value Added Tax (VAT) in India. There were other party-men of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) [CPI-M] to follow his ignominy. One among them was ‘Majid Master’: a frail gentleman, aged well past his prime and draped in milk-white apparel, with arms folded as if in a praying-mode; has been shown the iron doors of custody. Again, the TC activists lodged several (about fifty) complaints against him. He is allegedly a CPI-M strongman: a ‘supplier’ of the dreaded Harmads or cadre-cum-goons. The EC acted with alacrity as Majid, absconding from the police, was spotted in the CPI-M party head-office at Alimuddin Street in Kolkata.
PHILOSOPHY OF THE CPI-M
The definition of the word ‘Left’ has been a subject of debate among scholars and for most of the times, has given rise to utter confusion for the common people. Hence, partly in order to avoid rigorous intellectual discussion and partly under propaganda by the ‘Marxists’ for over three decades, the majority of the people of Bengal have come to more or less believe that it’s the CPI-M, which represents ‘Leftism’. And interestingly in the process, the leaders as well as the cadres of CPI-M could garner the audacity of disrespecting the intellect and knowledge of the citizenry to such a ludicrous extent that even this year’s election campaign procession of the party through the busy streets and congested lanes of Kolkata marched ahead with cadres wearing ‘Che-Guevara’ T-shirts.
To clarify such a posture of the CPI-M, when a query was accidentally thrown at one of their activists, then his sharp reply was: “The Che-Guevara T-shirts are a respect to the philosophy of communism.” As if, nobody understands communism and it is only they who do. Did they forget that Guevara was a votary of the principle of violent overthrow of reactionary regimes through the modus operandi of surgical guerrilla strikes? Did they not apprehend that it would be easier to connect Guevara with the Maoists whom their Harmads are specifically fighting in Jangalmahal (West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts)?
In actuality, they held the firm belief that whatever gibberish would be preached shall be accepted by the people. Hence they were nonchalant to bring into calculation such questions since they are not used to answering them. No opposition, no renegades, no dissent, and no intellectual schism: the reason being obvious; the people could not question the Left in Bengal. Their acts and thoughts were beyond question.
In fact, it can be easily proved that the CPI-M is not a Leftist party at all. And in order to appreciate that, one need not digest, let alone glance at the mammoth Das Capital by Karl Marx or the historical Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels. If CPI-M had followed the basic tenets of Marxism, then it should have tried to unite the working class or the ‘proletariat’ against the ‘bourgeoisie’ or the capitalist class. Instead, what it has done is a pursuance of a hocus-pocus policy. Neither could it encourage a united front of the workers and peasants nor could it totally usher in an ambience of industrialisation. The capitalists found it cumbersome to carry out business in Bengal due to the obstructionist behaviour of the CPI-M-backed trade unions whereas on the other hand, the peasants and factory workers found themselves in the grip of the party leaders, thus being rendered imbecile.
So, what essentially did the CPI-M do in the last three decades in this fertile land? Nothing, but only perpetuate its stay ad infinitum. The process to achieve it was rather technical and systematic. And in order to do so, they didn’t emulate a revolutionary Lenin or a militant Trotsky, rather followed the footsteps of the dictatorial Stalin. CPI-M’s aim was simple: to stay on in power by creating a disciplined set of ‘paid’ party workers and by politicising every sphere of activity; from education to lower judiciary to police to auto-rickshaw pullers to even street-vendors.
Now, things would be portrayed in a biased manner if one fails to mention about the land distribution which CPI-M undertook when they had entered the Writers’ Buildings in 1977. It was a masterstroke. It gave the CPI-M the required life-line to stay on in Bengal, as an ideal replacement for the ‘reactionary’ Indian National Congress (INC). So, the relevant query that props up is: Why did the people of Bengal start disliking the CPI-M-backed Left Front government; especially in the rural areas?
Was it lack of economic growth? Was it lack of industrialisation? Was it lack of power and infrastructure? The Bengali ‘Manoos’ could still have tolerated such blatant misgovernance. But it just could not tolerate the condescending behaviour of the party muscle-men. It just could not bear the overbearing attitude of the party hierarchy. The common Bengali was vehemently in search of an ‘alternative’. But it found none. The old INC was in a rotten and stinking condition in the province. Intra-party squabbles had reached such an impasse for the Bengal-INC that the electorate didn’t risk wasting their ballot for these dimwits.
Another national level party which could have probably filled the vacuum in Bengal was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the stigma of ‘communalism’, the lack of proper leadership and party structure made it impossible for the BJP to withstand the rhetorical attack of the Left. Thus, the masses remained alienated from the national political paradigm and searched for a regional alternative and till it appeared in a tangible form, continued to find solace in the pseudo-leftist ideology of CPI-M.
SEARCH FOR AN OPPOSITION
She is any other amongst the hoi polloi of Bengal. And she is the one who had in the 1970s as an INC-supporter jumped up on the bonnet of Loknayak Jaiprakash Narayan’s car. Yes, she is Mamata Banerjee: the maverick, the rule-breaker, the demagogue without polished oratory skills. Yet, she is a simpleton with a pair of slippers and a cotton saree. Only tangible piece of luxury is a cell phone. Not at all suave, has been highly criticised as being dictatorial; so what made Mamata-di emerge victorious in the Municipal elections in 2010, Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and the Panchayat elections in 2008? Banerjee had been present in the political atmosphere since the emergence of the Left in 1977. So, what is making her click now? Did breaking away from the INC and carving out the new TC on January 01, 1998, do the trick?
Not quite. Undoubtedly, the TC took almost a decade to settle down amongst the masses of Bengal. In the beginning, almost all the analysts of Bengal politics; from the elite to the riffraff wrote off the TC with utter disregard. And the reason was not baseless as the CPI-M, with all its balderdash, was always a party very strongly tied to the grassroots due to its disciplined party apparatchiki. And it required a real potent force to dislodge them from their ensconced positions; especially in the rural hinterlands.
Nevertheless, though Banerjee went ahead undaunted with a one-woman show as the opposition, the people of Bengal hardly exhibited confidence in her, or rather the absolute confidence was elusive for Didi. A respite came, in 2007, for both Didi and the people of Bengal simultaneously. March 14, 2007, remains a historic day for contemporary Bengal. The same peasants, who had been fed by the CPI-M for decades that agriculture is the backbone of an economy, suddenly found the lessons going awry when their ‘tutors’ were in the forefront along with the state police to grab their lands. Special Economic Zones had found their way into the CPI-M lexicon along with a new Chief Minister, replacing the old guard of Jyoti Basu and company. Agriculture was no more the chief electoral plank. Rather, industrialisation was the buzzword and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and his coterie now were running after the Deng Xiaoping model as implemented in China. Well, Deng put into effect the theory of ‘State-controlled Capitalism’ or ‘Market Socialism’ in the early 1980s, whereas his Bengal comrades understood its importance after more than two decades!
Still, the drive for industrialisation could have proceeded smoothly if the masses concerned would have been taken into confidence. Nothing of that happened. On the contrary, the CPI-M Harmads, as per the dictates from Alimuddin Street, kept on wielding their naked swords. The result was, however, the meteoric rise of people’s movements at the grassroots. As a natural offshoot of such long periods of exploitation, the Maoist movement too gained in bulk and strength. Thus, there was a dual form of reaction against the CPI-M Raj. One followed the path of chaos, bloodshed and anarchy. The other, at least on a palpable note, provided a parliamentary alternative with a clean, honest and pro-poor leader. The majority chose the latter.
This is a fairly simple explanation which elucidates the rise of Banerjee and her TC. From 2007 onwards, Bengal has witnessed a Nandigram agitation, a Singur imbroglio and a Lalgarh outburst. Compare it with the victory of the TC-led alliance in the Panchayat, Lok Sabha and Municipal polls. The one-to-one correspondence is easily evident. And in this journey, the INC has played the role of a junior partner in order to exist in the province. The Maoists, on the other, have aided and abetted the rise of the viable opposition, sometimes directly and at times, unknowingly.
“PEOPLE WANT TO DEFEAT LEFT”—Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP Incharge, West Bengal
What is the election strategy of BJP in West Bengal?
There is a huge disenchantment among the people of West Bengal with the Left rule for last 34 years. It is almost clear that people want to defeat the Left and the Left is going to be defeated this time. People are looking for an alternate. Now what really happened in 2009 elections, there was a kind of Congress wave with TC and TC had performed excellently. But in last five-six months due to governance deficit Mamata Banerjee has been branded as one who cannot administer.
As we have seen that the Congress government at the centre has failed on many governance issues and its corruption cases are exposed, it is now clear that the TC-Congress alliance if comes to power will not be much different from the Left. It is now clear that the Congress is as bad as the Left. Therefore BJP has come out in last five-six months very strongly. Now our strategy is to exploit this situation. We are going to ask the people what they want. Whether they want a mirror of the Left or they want an efficient government as we have shown during the NDA regime in centre or in several states like Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat etc.
Then, who will be your main opponent—Left or the Congress-TC alliance?
Left is definitely our main opponent. They are incumbent government. We are fighting against the incumbent government. In fact, the fight is between those who believe in Left ideology and those who don’t want any government backed by Left ideology.
Would you also raise the issue of TC and Maoist connections?
When I told you that we are going to ask the people whether they want a Left mirror, I meant actually the connection between TC and Maoists. It is always the Left who captured the booths with the nexsus of police and goons. Now those goons and police are transfered in wholesale to TC. So, it is basically Left vs Maoist ideologies and we are going to expose that.
How much seats are you expecting?
I can only say that BJP will perform well.
If TC is going to form the government after the election and it requires support, will BJP lend its support?
I think it is too early to comment on it. We can see it after the elections.
Interviewed by Ravi Shankar
WILL THERE BE A CHANGE?
Amidst favourable circumstances, Mamata Banerjee has been successful in galloping ahead as the agent of paribartan or change. She dumped BJP, her previous ally and forged camaraderie with the INC instead. That has paid her rich dividends in the last three years. This is a crucial juncture and TC’s best opportunity to grab the Writers’ Buildings.
In the total 294 assembly seats, Banerjee has put forth 228 TC candidates and left open the rest for the INC. Initially, there were certain hick-ups in the Grand Alliance (Mahajot) due to this seat-sharing formula, but it later on receded to the background because of the intervention of Sonia Gandhi. Banerjee is confident of sweeping the elections. In her characteristic tone, after declaring the names of TC’s candidates, she said: “Maa Mati Manush (mother, soil and people) will form its own government after winning two-thirds majority in the assembly. The people of Bengal will break the shackles of misrule of the Marxist government.”
Banerjee has tried to present the electorates a blend of meritocracy and bureaucracy. A number of former IPS officers like Sultan Ahmed and Rachpal Singh along with the likes of FICCI Secretary General Amit Mitra, former West Bengal Chief Secretary Manish Gupta and former CBI-honcho Upen Biswas may be posing a formidable challenge to the ruling Left. Mitra will in fact contest from the Khardaha assembly constituency against state Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta. Furthermore, personalities like Debashree Roy and others are adding to the glamour quotient of the polls.
The obvious interpretation from these facts is that all the ‘good’ and like-minded people are queuing up to bring about the ‘paribartan’ under the TC banner. But that’s a naïve analysis. Politics, ultimately is a struggle for power. And all these former bureaucrats, intellectuals and past and present entertainers have found the best opportunity to cash in on the ‘winds of change’ so as to secure a part of the pie.
One might argue that there is no harm in it whatsoever till the persons involved are honest and do not exploit the gullible masses. Moreover, in the kind of parliamentary democracy that exists in India, this is probably the optimum solution. So, Bengal is duly poised for a change, rather a ‘regime change’. And among other factors, anti-incumbency compounded with the systematic exploitation, nepotism and endemic failure in providing basic amenities to the people are what may cost the CPI-M dear in the coming six-phase polls in the state from April 18 to May 10.
“WE FIGHT ON THE BASIS OF POLITICAL PROGRAMMES AND ORGANISATIONAL STRENGTH “
—Mohammed Salim, Former MP and State Secretariat Member CPI(M)
Mohammed Salim, former MP and State Secretariat Member CPI (M) spoke to Uday India Correspondent S Roy about the Left agenda in the upcoming assembly election in West Bengal and pointed out the weaknesses of the opposition. Excerpts:
A section of the media is projecting Mamata Banerjee as the next Chief Minister of West Bengal. What is your opinion about this?
Not only one section but a large section of the corporate media is doing this as a part of its profit venture. The neo-liberal economic policy has opened a floodgate for a section of the investors to make super-profit. We cannot ignore the fact that today media is also run by corporate houses on corporate principle. The UPA government is taking up all the decisions which are benefiting the large corporate groups—be it nationals and multi-nationals—to make supernormal profit, even some of them ignoring ethics are making huge black money. Now these corporate giants for their own interest think that if the Congress-Trinamool alliance comes to power, it can get bigger slice of the cake which is being generated.
Left is always against the privatisation. Now the finance ministry has put up a proposal to introduce the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill 2011 before the Union Cabinet while the manifesto of the Trinamool Congress during the Lok Sabha election 2009 was against bank privatisation. Your comment please.
Congress in the last two decades is pursuing very hard the so-called economic reforms. In the UPA-1 we struggled hard with the Congress on the issues like disinvestment of PSUs, privatisation of our financial institutions through the route of FDI, etc.
After the last election, when the Left was no longer required to be with Congress, not only in pension funds, it is also looking at the routes to welcome foreign funds in our agriculture, cottage and small sector and retail business. Here Trinamool Congress has a dual role. In West Bengal it is using revolutionary jargons while opposing all those programmes, but at the Centre, being a part of the UPA government, it is following the neo-liberal economic policies and particularly in railways, it is pursuing privatisation in the name of PPP.
In the manifesto for the assembly election this time, Trinamool Congress is following the rightist economic agenda starting from corporate investment in the agriculture and small scale industries. If one compares the election manifesto of Trinamool Congress of 2006, 2004, 2001 and 1999, one can easily find how hollow its hopes and promises are because here Mamta Banerjee, the Trinamool supremo in the league of Maoists, speaks in a radical Left voice. But this time, the agenda is completely opposite from what Trinamool has propagated in the last ten years, especially the issues like privatisation, corporatisation, finance, commerce, multinationals etc.
Out of 294 assembly seats, Left won in 235 seats in the assembly election in 2006. How many seats do you expect this time?
I do not hazard any guess-work. This is the task of the astrologers or experts who conduct opinion-poll. We fight on the basis of political programmes and organisational strength and we expect to win.
The majority of the voters in West Bengal assembly election are young. What will be your agenda to attract them in politics and their votes in your favour?
The representatives of the younger generation have always come forward to join Leftist movements which make the Left movement survive. In Bengal also, the new leaderships are coming from universities or colleges. It is not like the case of other parties where they come on the basis of family background or some legacy or some connections. In Bengal generally things are not so. Having a well-organised panchayat-raj system and local self-government in rural and urban areas, there is a constant flow of able and tested people representatives. New leaderships come from the grassroots level.
In this assembly election also, one can see a combination of large number of candidates from younger generation with some experienced veterans. The student pursuing university examination is also in the list. Before the assembly election there were universities and colleges elections where we have seen that youth are supporting the Left whereas Trinamool, Congress and BJP do not have any active student organisation. Our ideology, political agenda, our performance through the years, extending education system to the marginalised section, planned rural and urban development, industrialisation, the sustainable development module and participatory democracy besides peace and stability are the Left’s agenda for which the younger generation will support us.
This time West Bengal assembly election is quite different from previous one. What are the new trends that are emerging?
The new trend combines both positive and negative features. The positive is greater participation of younger generation, women and marginalised section of the society. We can see the importance of this election from the background of recent developments of the national and the international scenario—from Iraq to Libya, how NATO is affecting the third world democracies. From national perspective, now the country is facing uncontrolled price rise and huge corruption and corporate scams at an unprecedented scale. Series of killings and violence are happening in Bengal after the Lok Sabha election by Maoists and its allies mainly Trinamool Congress. So, there is both positive and negative aspects.
Though the slogan of ‘change’ came from the opposition, it has activated a large segment of population who were not keen about the major political debate in a day-to-day life. Supporters of the Left, who remained idle and inactive, are now mobilised. So Left is more concentrated and motivated this time. There is disunity not only among Congress and Trinamool but also SUCI and other smaller groups like PDCI etc. The so-called ‘Mahajot’—what they were talking for over a decade—has now fallen apart.
How are you looking at the alliance between Congress and Trinamool and its cry for the number of seats?
This is a part of the high drama. If you have an unprincipled and opportunistic alliance, there will be crunch for only numbers and figures, but not for the policies and issues. For Left, any alliance or coalition means principles, issues and ethics. Congress in last two years made alliance losing its self-respect and now even self-existence. Then what is the rationale behind such an alliance?
Are you getting any strategic advantage as Congress got lesser number of seats than it wanted?
The Left is going to form the government irrespective of the alliance or non-alliance. Securing mass political support from the electorates of West Bengal galvanising, strengthening and motivating the Left supporters, workers and cadres on the basis of a positive programme is our motto. While the high drama between the opposite alliances will have an impact on the morale of the opposition workers, it may help boost the morale of our supporters and activists.
CAN THE LEFT SURVIVE?
Will the Red Bastion fall in Bengal? Will it be ‘end of history’ for the revisionist Red in Bengal? CPI-M General Secretary Prakash Karat thinks otherwise. In his interview with Karan Thapar for the programme ‘The Devil’s Advocate,’ telecast over CNN-IBN on March 27, Karat defends his party (and expectedly so): “In the case of West Bengal we have seen this in the last two elections, in 2001 and 2006, also. They said we’re facing a very difficult fight, and we proved that we could win quite comfortably.”
The Bengal Chief Minister, known for his outward gusto, has also roared: “We are confident about the formation of the eighth Left Front government by defeating this alliance.” Whether this turns out to be an empty rhetoric or not, the pertinent point to be kept in mind that whosoever wins the coming polls, Left-ism as an ideology has come to see the end of day-light. If TC-INC alliance wins, which is a fair expectation, unless there is an unusual vote swing; Banerjee has to look into reviving the atmosphere for industrialisation and coax the capitalists to set up their businesses in the state. And if CPI-M could somehow hold onto their ground, then they have to move on with their new-found spree of industrialisation, albeit with caution. None of the parties can hereafter talk merely of empty ideology and turn away from addressing the basic issues of development.
“WE WILL EXPOSE THE MISRULE OF LEFT —Shakeel Ahmed, Spokesperson, congress
What will be the election strategy of Congress in West Bengal?
Our main strategy is that we have made an alliance with Trinamool Congress (TC). TC has been given more seats, because we want to defeat the ruling alliance, i.e. Left. There are several issues which we will raise in the public domain. Left is in power for more than three decades in West Bengal but the state is still very backward in terms of development. We will expose the misrule of Left and we are sure that the people will end the misrule of the Left parties. The new budget session is about to start but the government has not enough money to pay the government staffs. People are actually fed up of the Left government and they will throw it out.
The Congress-led UPA government in centre is facing many corruption charges. WikiLeaks revelations also targeted your government. Don’t you think it will affect your party?
It is true that there are several corruption cases came out, but you can see that our government has taken actions in each and every case. Whether it was CWG or 2G spectrum case, government has taken actions against the guilty persons. But this is not true in West Bengal. We have heard the case of an ex-MP of Left whose daughter and son-in-law were arrested for corruption. Similarly, 35 crore rupees were seized from another ex-MP of Left but no action was taken yet. Previously Leftists were caught taking Rs 2 crore for their mouthpiece newspaper Matribhumi from a businessman but the governemnt didn’t take any action. They simply returned the money which only exposed their misdeeds. So I don’t think the issue of corruption will go against us, instead it will show our zeal to fight against corruption and will benefit us.
Congress got very few seats, i.e. mere 65. It is heard that ground workers are very dissatisfied with the distribution of seats as well as selection of candidates too. How will Congress resolve this issue?
It is quite natural. Every worker wants his representation and our worker base is very huge. If we had got all 294 seats, still there would have been dissatisfaction among workers. You can see what happened in Bihar recently. BJP performed well winning 90 per cent seats, it fought and JD (U) won 82 per cent seats but still they both faced the heat of angry workers’ rebel. The state office of BJP was set to fire and a lot of hullabaloo was made by the unsatisfied workers. Same happened with JD (U) too. In the party like RJD, where the word of the party president Lalu Prasad Yadav is taken as the law, party faced the anger of the workers over the seat distribution. So, it is a natural thing and it has no business with the number of seats. There are thousands of workers and it is not possible to satisfy everyone. However it is true that whoever performs, he must be rewarded. But once the election campaign starts, all matter will settle down.
How much seats are you expecting for your alliance and particularly for Congress?
We are expecting to win 225 seats as an alliance. As far as Congress is concerned, though we are fighting on only 65 seats, we will perform better.
Interviewed by Ravi Shankar
Banerjee’s TC will have its task cut out if it emerges victorious. A debt-ridden beleaguered exchequer, the Maoist menace, the aspirations of a number of neo-TC cadres and above all, the hopes of over 80 million denizens of Bengal could turn out to be extremely onerous.
If Bengal has to grow holistically, then it needs a ‘fresh’ regime with a strong, vocal and learned opposition. Bloodshed or not, Maoist anarchy or not, the denouement of this political drama certainly requires the people of Bengal to visit the polling booths to press the electronic voting machines and effect a tangible ‘change’. In whatever trajectory the change may happen, it however can be concluded that there will be “No Left Turn” for Bengal.
By Uddipan Mukherjee from Kolkata
WILL THE FORTUNE OF POWER TURN THE ECONOMY?
By S Roy from Kolkata
With the Election Commission’s announcement about the schedule for the state assembly polls in West Bengal, the countdown has begun for what will be the most drawn-out of elections—spread over more than three weeks, beginning April 18. The six-phase polls will end on May 10 and the result will come out on May 13 for which not only Bengal but perhaps the whole country is curious about.
The Left Front, undefeated in the last seven assembly elections in West Bengal is facing a tough challenge, this time from the part of Mamta Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. After thirty three years of uninterrupted rule, the Left Front may sense a defeat by the tidal wave of paribartan (change) at the combined hands of Trinamool Congress-Indian National Congress. The reason behind the downswing of Left Front popularity and the elevation of Trinamool Congress in Bengal politics is the former’s own undoings and Singur-Nandigram episodes—from where probably the political career of our Rail Minister Mamata Banerjee took a new shape. Patrick French in his recently published India described: “Mamata Banerjee is a brisk, mercurial woman politician who runs the breakaway Trinamool Congress (AITC) in West Bengal, and hopes to undo the Marxist lock on the political structure of her state.” Though Mamata Banerjee is not contesting the assembly polls in West Bengal to campaign for her party throughout the state, she might contest the polls in the next six months once her party will be voted to power in West Bengal. The million dollar question in every nook and corner of the state today is about, if the Mamta Banerjee and her party would make history by locking left rule, would they be able to turn the fortune of West Bengal, that is today economically far behind than the neighbouring states like Bihar?
THE OVERALL SCENARIO OF THE STATE
The first gift from independent India to Bengal was the abiding memory of bloodshed partition that paralysed the economy of the richest region of Indian subcontinent. The backwardness, started from 1947, is still on. Being blessed with a favourable strategic location, availability of fertile farm land, access to ports and mineral wealth and a huge talent pool, West Bengal is at the bottom of the list of the Indian states in terms of agricultural productivity, industrilisation, higher education, healthcare facility and governance.
Speaking about employment—the primary agenda of any government—the Left took credit about the growth of sector V and its IT and allied industries. But the CSO is not very bright about the state’s service sector. According to CSO data, while there was a marginal increase of the state’s share of the tertiary sector in the gross state domestic product (GSDP) from 53.5 per cent in 2001-02 to 55.8 per cent, Bihar grew from 51 per cent to 59.5 per cent. Tertiary sector growth is considered as one of the parameters that measures economic development of any region.
How much money does the small and marginal landowner make in West Bengal? A survey made by Confederation of Indian Industry a few years ago suggests that if he grows two crops of rice, then an average yield of 2.5 tonnes per hectre, an average land holding of .64 hectre and a price of Rs 700 per quintal significantly on the higher side – the small and marginal farmer earns a little more than Rs 2000. Subtracting the input costs, he is left with very little. The survey also shows that if a farmer grows potatoes, then at a yield of 21tonnes per hectre and a price of Rs 400 per quintal, he makes Rs 10,752 in revenues in a year! And this is why the percentage share of primary sector in GSDP decreased from 31.3 per cent in 2001-02 to 24.8 per cent in 2007-08.
Before the last assembly election, it was felt that West Bengal needed more money, and not from central grants alone. At that time, the state hardly required a massive dose of private investment if it was to keep up with the rest of the country. The over-enthusiasm of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in bringing the corporates to the Bengali soil, (though his intention was for the good of the state) brought instability in the political strength of the Left. The land owners, peasants and share-croppers and the grassroots level workers—the driving force of the party—evicted ruthlessly, assaulted and murdered. The Indonesian multinational Salim Group and Indian corporate TATAs had to flee from the state. The peculiarity of institutional behavior determines the policy outcomes in the state and made it a classic example of ‘institutional stickiness’ leading to path dependency in the industrialisation of West Bengal. Here, the right institutions for creating more enabling environment for industry do not exist. Policy change in favour of the big business at the top for broader political achievements is not readily accepted by local powers.
WHAT IS NEEDED?
There is no doubt that the introduction of new faces by Left or contesting in all the seats by BJP or the conflict between the Trinammol Congress and Indian National Congress is the talk of the town. But all debates and discussions have one dead end—whoever would come to power, must do something for the massive development of the state like Nitish Kumar have done for Bihar. He became the Railway Minister and then became the Chief Minister of Bihar and within few years, succeeded to change Bihar’s economy. The Left Chief Ministers, late Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya had good intentions but they failed to do any magic. While the former could show little commitment to his own views, the later tried hard, but failed within his own party and its national leadership. Now, the manifesto of the Trinamool Congress raised many questions. Is it really possible for Mamta Banerjee to build up 10 medical colleges or to enhance infrastructure available in Kolkata, Haldia and Sagar ports like Hong Kong and Singapore or to solve the years old Darjeeling problem within 200 days? A shared vision and collective effort of the government administration, industry and the farm sector is what the state is thrusting about to reach the commanding heights that it rightly deserves. Will the mercurial power alter the fate of millions of people of West Bengal?