May 22, 2009

Muslim-peasant factor, alliance arithmetic sink Left in Bengal (News Analysis)


By Sirshendu Panth

Kolkata (IANS): Singed by Muslim anger and mauled by peasants’ rage, the Left citadel in West Bengal gave way in these Lok Sabha elections, unable to withstand the determined onslaught of an opposition alliance stitched by Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M)-led Left Front (LF), which has been at the state’s helm for 32 uninterrupted years, seems to have fallen casualty to the anti-incumbency factor, with people developing a strong distaste for the ruling combine’s poor show in areas like health, and also due to the arrogance and changed lifestyle of the lower level party functionaries.

But more than anything, it was the Mamata Banerjee factor.

Berated in the past for her immature and whimsical ways, the Trinamool chief displayed cool calculation as she broke ranks with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to join forces with the Congress with an eye on the sizeable Muslim votes.

The Muslims, comprising around 23 percent of the state’s population, were cut up with their one-time favourite LF after the Rajinder Sachar Committee report brought to the fore their gross under-representation in state government jobs and the general backwardness of the community.

In addition, the violence in East Midnapore’s Nandigram - where Muslims are in a majority - and Trinamool’s sustained campaign that the government was planning to acquire large tracts of agricultural land across the state, also swayed the community. The Muslims in the state mostly draw their daily sustenance from small landholdings.

The mystery behind the Rizwanur Rahman death, where the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government dilly-dallied in taking action against police officials accused of forcing the Muslim computer graphics teacher to separate from his Hindu wife, only increased the anger in the community.

Trinamool’s tie-up with the Congress helped in consolidating the Muslim vote in favour of the combine.

The surprising poll debacle at the Marxist stronghold of Uluberia in the neighbouring Howrah district is a case in point. The constituency with a 40 percent Muslim population had always been with the CPI-M since 1977. But with the votes of the Congress as well as the Trinamool supporters, Sultan Ahmed of the Trinamool Congress beat eight-time MP Hannan Mollah.

The defeat of the CPI-M’s minority face, Mohammed Salim, from Kolkata North with a 16-20 percent Muslim population and the opposition’s sweep in the Muslim-dominated belt of Murshidabad are other indicators. In Malda district, the influence of the Congress leader, the late A.B.A. Ghani Khan Choudhury, continued.

Singur and Nandigram, which have now almost become symbols of peasant movements against land acquisition for industries, were also contributory factors in galvanising the rural peasantry to ditch the LF, thereby affecting its rural vote bank in large parts of the state.

That the CPI-M’s campaign blaming Banerjee for Tata Motors’ Nano plant moving out of the state did not cut much ice with the electorate is evident from the 22,000-plus lead taken by the Trinamool candidate from the Singur assembly segment, which falls under Hooghly parliamentary constituency.

In the five districts - Kolkata and its adjoining South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Hooghly and Howrah - the LF was annihilated in 16 seats due to the coupling of the Muslim-peasant factors.

The consolidation of the Congress-Trinamool votes also gave the arithmetical advantage to the opposition and helped it pick up seats in several constituencies, particularly in Nadia and Birbhum districts, and even in South 24 Parganas and Kolkata.

The alliance also got the votes of the middle classes, especially in Kolkata, who wanted a stable government at the centre.

But for its impressive showing in the western belt of Birbhum, West Midnapore and Bankura as also in Burdwan, the LF would have been virtually wiped out from the state.

The BJP, which won the Darjeeling seat, torpedoed the Trinamool’s chances in two constituencies, Alipurduar and Burdwan (East).

The Trinamool-Congress alliance got 26 seats of the state’s 42 seats, while the Left got 15, its lowest since 1977.


Assembly session from June 15

KOLKATA, 22 May : The budget session of the West Bengal Assembly will resume on June 15, Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim said on Thursday. The Assembly was adjourned on March 27. 

Though the Assembly would resume in the backdrop of the reverses suffered by the ruling Left Front in the Lok Sabha election, Halim said there was no relation between the two and it was not correct that the session was being resumed earlier than usual. 

Going by the results of the LS polls, in which the seats of the Left Front went down from 35 to 15, the Opposition has won in 193 of the 294 Assembly segments in the state, thus having a notional majority. LF candidates have lost in Assembly constituencies of 27 state ministers.

Left Front for more efforts to improve the lot of people

KOLKATA,21 May,2009: Stung by the reverses it suffered in the Lok Sabha polls, the Left Front in West Bengal has called for greater urgency on the part of the State government for extra initiatives in improving the lot of the people.

“Efforts will have to be made at the political level too to bring back to our fold those who had turned away from us,” Biman Basu, Chairman of the Left Front Committee, said here on Thursday after leaders of the different constituents of the Left Front met to review its performance in the elections.

The Left Front’s share of votes was 43.3 per cent (a total of 1,85,03,157 votes) while that of the Trinamool Congress-Congress electoral combine was 45.67 per cent (1,90,70,604 votes). “It is clear from these figures that a large section of the people had supported the Left Front,” he said.

One of the lessons learnt by the Left Front from the outcome of the elections was that the State government, its Ministers and the administration, be more active in initiating programmes to solve the problems of the people, Mr. Basu said.

In what could be construed as a tacit admission that not just national but also State-specific factors were responsible for the dismal performance of the Left parties, Mr. Basu conceded that there might have been certain important programmes of the State government that could not be completed within the stipulated time. “All Ministers should look at implementing the programmes of their respective departments and check to see whether they were being initiated properly.”

It was decided at the meeting that the different Left Front constituents would review their respective performances in the elections after which bilateral talks would be held. “The common issues that will emerge will subsequently taken up at the next meeting of the Left Front,” Mr. Basu said.

In reply to a question on the reported demand of the Trinamool for the dismissal of the State government and imposition of President’s Rule in the State that would pave way for early Assembly elections, Mr. Basu wondered what the “basis” of such a demand was. He also vehemently denied that the Left Front had sought President’s Rule in 1977, as claimed by the Trinamool. “They [the claims] are all lies.”

Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee presented before the meeting a report on the post-poll law and order situation in the State.

“West Bengal will soon become one of the most attractive IT destinations in the country”

Siddharth, Principal Secretary, Department of IT, Government of West Bengal talked to Joy Roy Choudhury about the state’s readiness in supporting IT growth and its roadmap for the future


How is the state in terms of IT readiness when compared to other IT destinations in the country?

The State has the complete ecosystem required for the exponential growth of the IT/ ITES Sector. Studies by several international consultants have revealed that Kolkata is an attractive investment destination in comparison to the other IT hubs in the country. The city has a huge reservoir of talent and offers the lowest cost of operations. The attrition rate is the lowest in the country as certified by NASSCOM, the availability and quality of power is best according to Gartner, making it the most preferred IT destination in the country today.

Studies and surveys reveal that in terms of average salaries, cost of living and consumer price index Kolkata has outclassed other IT destinations in the country. All these are backed by a strong social infrastructure network.

Besides, the State Government has pursued a very attractive IT Policy. In addition to the usual incentives the State Government has declared IT as a Utility Service for the state and has provided for a training subsidy and a Venture Capital Fund (VCF) to assist entrepreneurs setting up units in the state.

Has the West Bengal IT industry been affected by the global recession?

The country as a whole is experiencing the impact of a global slowdown. Obviously, our State cannot remain untouched by this phenomenon. Like IT, several other sectors too have been affected by this economic downturn. However, there are neither pink slips flying around nor an increased number of closures. Of course there is a slowdown in projects and some staggering in fresh recruitments. At the same time, I believe that this is a big opportunity for the Indian IT industry.

Few nations have such a vast reservoir of resources and a huge market, we have to take advantage of the current world economic situation and look at the opportunities in the domestic market. Additionally we can emphasize on innovation, improving quality research and development during the period. I feel that this is a passing phase and I am optimistic about the future and feel that things will improve by the next year.

What steps has the State’s IT Department has taken to develop manpower for the IT industry?

The initiative for starting the WEBEL Finishing School was taken up with a view to the imminent future shortage of human resources. We have set-up two schools so far, one each at Kolkata and at Durgapur. These schools function more like a department store where you have fixed courses as well as a provision for tailor made courses. These schools are also envisaged as training cum placement centers where students from small colleges of moffussil towns can be trained for the IT industry and companies are invited to make campus recruitments. These schools are being professionally run with the help of the industry and faculty from IIT Kharagpur. It is our endeavor to open more such Finishing Schools in different parts of the State including Siliguri, Kalyani, Durgapur, Kharagpur and Haldia.

Additionally, a training subsidy has been conceived as an incentive to IT companies to get their employees properly trained. If an IT company hires professionals in the State, trains and retains them for over six months, then the company is eligible to get an employment generation or training subsidy up to Rs 20,000 per candidate. The idea is that if a company is willing to hire and train people on the job in the State the Government is willing to share part of the training cost.

Has the State IT infrastructure kept pace with the growth of IT industry?

The IT infrastructure has kept pace with the growth of IT companies in Kolkata. At present we have about 7-8 million square feet of office space available for the IT/ITES industry and about 20 million square feet of office space is currently under construction exclusively dedicated for the IT industry which will be added over the next 2-3 years time. It will create more than 200,000 job opportunities.

The IT Department through WEBEL is currently developing two mega projects for the IT sector in the vicinity of New Town Rajarhat. Under the integrated IT Township Project called ‘Kolkata Links’ it plans to develop on a PPP model an IT Township over approximately 1,600 acres. Out of the entire area half of the land will be kept exclusively for IT companies and on the remaining land social and institutional infrastructure will be set-up. The State Government has already signed MOUs with Infosys and Wipro offering them 90 acres each in this project.

The other IT Hub will be developed at Jagdishpur Mouza over 330 acres of land where 160 acres of land will be allotted to IT companies and social infrastructure projects will come up on the remaining area.

Both of these projects will have state-of-the-art infrastructure and facility. These two projects will totally change the face of the IT industry in West Bengal which will certainly become one of the most attractive destinations in the country.

The State IT Department is creating a new IT belt on the outskirts of Kolkata. Can you give us some insights into it?

It has always been our endeavor to have more inclusive growth in the State and not keep the IT industry confined to Kolkata. Accordingly the IT Department commissioned PriceWaterhouseCoopers to conduct a study and identify potential IT hubs in the State. The report indicates Durgapur, Siliguri, Kalyani, Kharagpur and Haldia have the potential and required infrastructure facilities to support the growth of IT industry.

In fact the initiative has already yielded results as several companies have set-up operations in Durgapur with 4,000 employed in the town. Siliguri also has some IT companies operating there and more are to follow suite.

On part of the Government, initiative has been taken to develop IT Parks on PPP model at Siliguri and Durgapur. Additionally WEBEL itself is setting up incubation centers at Durgapur and Siliguri. It has floated the EOI for selecting a partner for developing an IT specific SEZ at Kalyani over 100 acres of land.

In Kharagpur the IT Department is setting up an Advanced IT Park for which the land is being acquired. In Haldia a private initiative to set up a 41-storied IT building has already been taken. All these five places have got STPI earth stations providing the required connectivity to fuel the growth of the IT industry.