Bengal's Misfortune: Follies of Mamata and Marxists
It is West Bengal's misfortune that its political fate is in the hands of some of the most short-sighted and petty-minded politicians in recent memory. Nothing brings out this fact more than the fiasco over the Nano plant of the Tatas in Singur.
In the normal course of things, all sensible politicians would have welcomed the project, which has attracted worldwide attention because of the technological marvel of so cheap a car.
Yet, the Tatas, who happen to be one of the most respected industrialist groups in a country where the business community is not always held in high esteem, are on the verge of closing shop. The reason is the obstructionism of Mamata Banerjee, whose sole political objective in life is to block anything which the Marxists may try to do.
As a result, she is not bothered if the leaders of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) are belatedly trying to rectify their earlier mistake of driving out the corporate sector from the state by encouraging militant trade unionism.
Instead of welcoming the dawning of sense in the Marxist camp, she has decided to pursue exactly the same kind of irresponsible policies which the Left introduced in West Bengal in the 1950s and 60s.
At that time, frequent strikes, the burning of trams and buses and the physical assault and intimidation of business executives used to be the hallmark of Leftist politics. Hence, the flight of capital and West Bengal's slide downwards from the top of the chart of industrialized states.
It took more than three decades and a change of guard in the Marxist hierarchy from Jyoti Basu to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee for the CPI-M to reverse the process. But the nihilistic spirit bred by its destructive politics had struck such deep roots by then that it took Mamata Banerjee little time to carry on from where the comrades had left off.
Not surprisingly, her party, the Trinamool Congress, has been joined by assorted groups of Maoists and extremist Leftists in the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI) along with professional do-gooders like Medha Patkar and followers of the Jamaitul-Ulema-i-Hind to ensure that work at the Singur factory cannot proceed according to schedule.
If it doesn't matter to her that her recklessness will ensure that the investors will continue to stay away from the state, letting it stagnate as an industrial wasteland, the reason is not only that she knows no other kind of politics but also that her limited outlook is out of sync with the modern world.
She still mouths the old socialist slogans of jobs for everyone but is suspicious of the private sector playing a role in providing them. Her simple lifestyle and the customary crumpled saris that she habitually wears tend to reinforce her image of a honest politician with nothing but popular welfare in her mind.
But this socialistic brand is gradually losing its appeal in today's more glitzy India where middle class aspirations have grown by leaps and bounds. Now she is mostly seen as the purveyor of negative politics, eager to exploit popular dissatisfaction irrespective of their justification.
The Left, of course, pursued similar politics, but the years in power made it appreciate the value of responsible conduct. By the same token, the years out of power have made Mamata Banerjee persist with her unreasonable ways, concerned solely with throwing a spanner in the CPI-M's works.
Arguably, her task has been made easy by some of the Left's own follies. For a start, the continued reliance of the Marxists on their cadres, who are mostly from the ranks of anti-social elements, to terrorize and even eliminate their political adversaries has built up a kind of latent anger against them which Mamata Banerjee can exploit.
Nandigram was a typical example of the Marxist militias violently driving out their opponents while the police are made to stay away. While it was an incident which made the rest of India aware for the first time of vicious Communist tactics, such onslaughts were always fairly common in West Bengal, where the Trinamool Congress supporters were the targets in places like Keshpur, Chhoto Angaria and elsewhere for years.
Mamata Banerjee's resistance to such attacks helped her to consolidate her base of support. However, she is now in danger of squandering it by her agitation in Singur, which will be seen by the middle class, her main group of supporters, as anti-development. For the first time, therefore, groups of people, who expected jobs in the Nano plant and in its ancillary units, have begun voicing their dissent against her.
Even if a solution is found at the initiative of Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi, it is unlikely that the investors will be rushing to West Bengal in future. Ratan Tata's observation that some people had thought that he was "mad" to invest in the state is relevant in this context.
The very fact that the governor's good offices have had to be sought shows that West Bengal is burdened with a political class it can happily do without.
(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. He can be reached at email@example.com)
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