No Winners in West Bengal; Losers are its People

Venal and irresponsible politicians, acting in concert with anti-social elements masquerading as cadres, have ensured that the faint hopes of reviving West Bengal's industrial sector have again been dashed.

First, the state government had to scrap its plans for a chemical complex in Nandigram because of stiff resistance to the acquisition of agricultural land led by Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee. Then the Tatas abandoned their Nano project in Singur as Banerjee's agitational tactics scaled new heights.

Even as she reaped the harvest of her pro-peasant policies by her electoral success, which led to her becoming the railway minister, the ruling Left Front in West Bengal sunk deeper into drift and despondency.

Now, the plight of the Communists has become worse with their decision to discard their plans to set up the much-touted IT hub in the Rajarhat area near Kolkata following revelations about fraudulent land acquisition procedures.

With the scuttling of virtually all the state government's industrial projects, including the move to relocate the chemical complex in Nayachar, the comrades are facing the worst crisis of their tenure in West Bengal.

Since the growth of employment prospects via industries was the centerpiece of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's plans, the successive setbacks not only mean a severe loss of face but also highlight the government's cluelessness about the next step. Its reverses are all the more galling because they have been inflicted by none other than Banerjee, the inveterate enemy of the comrades for the major portion of their rule of three decades.

Yet, it can be argued that there are no winners in West Bengal. The hounding out of the prospective investors means that the state will sink back into agricultural stagnation with little prospect of revisiting its past as the first choice of the industrial and corporate sectors.

West Bengal lost its primacy of place in these fields because of the Communists' militant trade union tactics in the 1960s and 1970s. It was to woo back the capitalists that Bhattacharjee started his industrial drive. But his mistake was that he depended on his violent cadres to intimidate the peasant proprietors to surrender their land while the police looked away.

Having established their stranglehold on the state by the use of such belligerent tactics, the Communists thought that this was the best way to promote the industries. The private sector, too, including the Tatas, believed in their assurances without realizing that Stalinist methods would not work in a democratic set-up.

What was worse, strong-arm tactics were not the only way in which the state government tried to acquire land. As the latest incidents involving the burning of a holiday resort, the Vedic Village, in Rajarhat showed, there was a clandestine link between politicians, industrial promoters and the anti-social elements.

This revelation is the last crippling blow to the Bhattacharjee government, forcing it to abandon the IT project. But even as all seemed lost to the commissars, there has been a twist in the tale, for it isn't only the Marxists who have been implicated in the latest land scam but also several people close to the Trinamool Congress. As a result, Banerjee's pristine reputation as a doughty champion of the poor has taken a hit.

However, the people of the state are unlikely to be surprised. They saw how the Congress's degeneration helped the Communists to gain power, and then witnessed the Left's decline into corruption. The reason why Banerjee gained widespread support despite her reckless brand of politics, such as associating with the Maoists, was her reputation for personal integrity exemplified in an unostentatious lifestyle.

But, now, doubts may arise about her credentials as well. As it is, she is not regarded as the most level-headed of persons. Her expertise in the economic field is also limited, guided as she is by populist notions of heavy government and public sector investments in "pro-poor" projects, which benefit middle men more than the targeted beneficiaries.

Her only plus points are her seeming incorruptibility and grit in fighting the rampaging Marxists with their habitual recourse to the politics of threat and intimidation. But to fulfil her obvious ambition of becoming chief minister, she will have to demonstrate an ability to grasp the basic reasons for the state's present sorry plight.

Since these relate to the infiltration of goons into virtually all the parties and the influence exercised by promoters or "land sharks" over the political class, only a leader of commanding stature and administrative skill will be able to win the electorate's support. But Banerjee does not measure up to these expectations.

As a result, West Bengal is again suffering from a failure of political leadership. After the towering figure of the visionary B.C. Roy, who built the Durgapur and Haldia industrial complexes, and mooted the idea of satellite towns like Kalyani to draw people away from overcrowded Kolkata, the state has seen no one with similar purposefulness.

While Jyoti Basu was hobbled by his dogmatic comrades, who were responsible for the flight of capital, Bhattacharjee's ham-handed attempts to rectify the mistakes of the past were foiled by Banerjee's unrelenting opposition to anything which the Left initiated, even if it was ostensibly for the state's benefit.

Now, she also does not seem capable of effectively addressing West Bengal's problems.

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at aganguli@mail.com)  


More by :  Amulya Ganguli

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