January 9, 2013

Mamata Govt: Setbacks aplenty in honeymoon year

By Pratim Ranjan Bose

The Hindu Business Line
29th December, 2012

Kolkata, Dec 28: Ideally, 2012 should have been a honeymoon year for the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress Government in West Bengal.
For a party formed in 1998, Trinamool had not merely won the May 2011 elections with absolute majority but had also displaced a three-decade old CPI (M)-led Left Front Government.
The credit for this change in regime goes entirely to Banerjee. Ever since her victory in the 1984 General Elections (as a Congress nominee), she had emerged as the most credible face of the Opposition in the State.
She studied each and every move of her arch rival carefully and, repeated the same tactics in her favour. And, since she has not been indoctrinated with any known ideology, her doors were open to everyone, from far Left to Right, as long as they opposed the CPI (M).
So, when the former Buddhadeb Bhattacharyya Government, in its haste to industrialise the State, antagonised the party’s rural support base, Banerjee utilised it to build a strong anti-land acquisition campaign — more or less on similar lines as the Left did in the 1960s.
Careful to protect her image, she had always held extreme positions — as in declining the last ditch attempt of the Left Front Government to strike a compromise deal with the agitating farmers at Singur — but promised to have a model in store to make everyone happy.
Though there is lack of clarity in the new Act, land should be returned to unwilling farmers in Singur. Government will not acquire land but investment should come in droves. The State coffers may be empty but development will happen through PPP model and so on.

Cookie crumbles
But, the world clearly did not move the way Banerjee wanted .
The court struck down a slew of legislations ranging from the Singur Act (for taking over land from the possession of Tata Motors and redistribute it to unwilling farmers) to amendments in the cooperatives Act.
A series of Government actions, such as closing down a private medical college or disbanding police unions were reversed by the judiciary.
Investments — except those initiated during the Left regime — have largely eluded the State. On the contrary, West Bengal had lost committed investments from at least one IT major, due to Banerjee’s anti SEZ policy.
Collective investment schemes (popularly referred as ‘chit funds’), each mopping up thousands of crores of rupees a year — either illegally or using legal loopholes — have mushroomed, promising sky high returns from the investors.
The end result is that the State’s small savings inflow has taken a hit, leading to further impact on West Bengal’s dwindling finances.

On the firing line
It would be incorrect to say that Banerjee was all wrong in her actions and assumptions. But, she suffered from two major shortcomings: Intolerance to opposition or criticism and, major inadequacies in party administration.
The result: Within one and a half year in power and, another few months to go before Panchayat polls, the Trinamool is now facing allegations of widespread corruption, from within.
News of clashes between different party factions keeps pouring in. Examples of multiple Trinamool unions — owing allegiance to different leaders — in the same organisation, are aplenty.
In Singur the party leaders are now faced with angry protestors. The farmers are now left with neither money nor land. Rabindranath Bhattacharya, three-time MLA from the constituency, since 2001, has quit the State cabinet.
One MP fell out with the leadership almost a year ago . Another MLA criticised the one-upmanship in the party and was recently suspended. In-fighting is spreading even at the block levels.
And, expectation is rife in the political circles that even a slightest decline in Trinamool’s electoral fortunes in the Panchayat polls may accentuate the troubles.

Lessons not learnt
Going by the feedback on social networking sites, Trinamool’s popularity is waning especially among the urban youth. Even some party veterans admit to these concerns, albeit behind closed doors.
But, it is difficult to gauge whether Banerjee takes such concerns seriously. For the moment, she is banking on distributing bicycles to girls from minority sections or donating sickles (used in harvesting the crop) and agri tools to keep her rural vote bank intact.
Though the fiscal strain has intensified, she recently announced more jobs as well as higher pay (DA) to Government employees. She could have offered more if the Centre had allowed the State to pile up more debt disregarding the fiscal responsibility pact.
And, every embarrassment to her Government — be it rape incidents or tribal protest against land acquisition by a coal miner — are readily described as “conspiracy” of the CPI (M) or “sections of media” to malign the Government.

No comments: