Business Blues In Bengal
Payback By TMC
Two years ago, on the bright, sunny morning of May 13, a beaming Mamata Banerjee sat in a room of her one-storey house in the shanties of Kalighat surrounded by ecstatic party colleagues and animated journalists from across the country. The air was alive with excitement and anticipation. After all, it was a moment of historical significance. The results of the Bengal assembly polls had just been announced. Mamata had blown the Left Front’s defences apart with an overwhelming majority; the world’s longest-running democratically elected Communist government had come to an end. In keeping with her consciously subaltern image as the leader of the masses—symbolised by the inspired motto of Ma, Mati, Manush—the celebrations were modest, yet charged with joy. Endless cups of tea and coffee appeared in small clay cups. Basketfuls of puffed rice (muri) and fried snacks (teley bhaja) went around. Songs were sung. Hundreds had gathered for a glimpse of their leader. Didi stepped out often to acknowledge their thunderous cheers.
Two years later, on another sunny May morning, it looks as if the crowds had never left Mamata’s residence. But instead of lusty cheering, there are cries of despair and anguish. Cheated out of their life’s savings, the angry, stricken groups demand justice.
The Bengal chit fund scam couldn’t have broken at a worse juncture for Mamata and her Trinamool Congress government—just in time for a performance appraisal due after completion of two years in office. The most common words used to describe Mamata’s performance in a random Outlook survey of a cross-section of Bengal’s population have ranged from ‘disappointing’ to ‘dismal’. After the Saradha scandal, reinforced with the complicity of Trinamool henchmen, “dishonest” is a word that has been added to Bengal’s repertoire of disillusionment.
Photograph by Reuters, From Outlook 20 May 2013
“She advertised herself as a ‘paragon of virtue’,” sniggers a sardonic Left Front chairman Biman Bose to the amusement of supporters. “All that honesty has gone bust in just two years?”
Insofar as the burning political issue is concerned, Bengal politics has played up the ‘class’—as opposed to the ‘caste’—divide for decades. Thus, like the Left in the past, though the TMC bagged almost the entire ‘nomoshudro’ (lower castes or Dalit) vote comprising 65 per cent of Bengal’s electorate, there has been no major shake-up in terms of socio-political mobility. In states like Bihar and UP, the emergence of obcs and Dalits has shaped politics in recent decades. But in Mamata’s Bengal, they remain largely invisible.
Protests against Trinamool after the Saradha scam
If the lack of social mobility for the lower castes doesn’t count as a problem in Bengal, analysts argue that the one main focus for the Bengali politician has been to appease the nearly 30 per cent Muslim votebank. Here too, Mamata’s tell-tale sops indicate a policy cut from the old cloth. Unless she adapts to the changing times, it may backfire on her. As Ganguly observes, “Like the rest of the Left agenda, Mamata has also usurped the Left practice of appeasing Muslims because of votebank politics. But try as she may, the fact remains that she had no qualms about aligning herself with the NDA and in the future she could do it again if needed.” Mamata’s brazen ‘butterpolishing’ of Muslim religious leaders—she announced Rs 2,500 a month honorariums to each imam—angered even a section of the Muslim community who find it ‘insulting’ and offensive. “What does she think? She can buy my vote just because she is paying my religious leader some money every month?” says Najma Begum, a beautician, who comes from a deeply religious family which opposes the move.
In the realm of industry, Mamata has effectively abandoned the late, brief reawakening of Left support for investment under Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. “We are doomed,” laments Sheikh Mohammed, a resident of Singur, who not only voted TMC in the 2011 polls, but was also among the “unwilling” farmers who joined Mamata’s campaign that hounded the Tata Nano plant out of Bengal. He believed Didi’s campaign promise of getting back land given for the Nano project, and her boasts that she’d “turn Calcutta into London”. “But in two years we see that Didi has turned Singur into a wasteland and our dreams into a nightmare,” he says. After a negative high court order on the issue of the state’s handing back land at Singur from the Tatas, it has become a symbol of the TMC’s failings. Mamata’s ardent supporters in the region have turned into her worst critics, actuated by a strong sense of betrayal. “If we had the Tata Nano, we could have been the best state in the country in terms of industry. Now we are the worst,” Sheikh says dejectedly.
Mamata’s comments on the Park Street rape ignites emotions
In fact, industrialists were dismayed by the Mamata regime’s hands-off policy regarding land acquisition—going against the grain of accepted practice across the world, it said it would not help investors find land in Bengal. Since then, several other industries have fled or stalled operations in a state already denuded of big manufacturing industry. These include the ABG Group and Jindal. As against the present 2.8 per cent growth rate of industrial production in the country, West Bengal has a rate as low as 1.8 per cent.
The last two years have also seen Bengal erupt in political violence of such ferocity that it prompted governor M.K. Narayanan to remark that a “kind of goondaism” was plaguing Bengal politics. The immediate trigger for his comments was the audacious physical assault on senior Left leader Abdul Rezzak Mollah by alleged Trinamool goons in January, followed by days of arson and CPI(M)-TMC fighting. Even more disconcerting were the veiled barbs aimed at the governor himself by TMC leaders in response to his remarks. Panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee darkly said that the governor had better watch his words or else there’d be dire consequences.
Protesters decry the attack on Presidency University by suspected Trinamool goons
Activist and thespian Kaushik Sen explains, “Political violence is not new to Bengal. There were many instances even during the Left regime. But the difference is that top Left leaders rarely came out in defence of goons who allegedly worked for them. The current trend of top leaders commenting on or seemingly condoning acts of violence if the perpetrator is in some way connected to the ruling party was unheard of.” Indeed, public alarm over political violence is not only based on the actual incidence, or whether it’s on an upward curve, but reflects deep concerns about how leading political figures have tended to respond to it all. For example, when SFI leader Sudipto Gupta died in police custody last month, Mamata called it a “small, petty matter”.
Last month, after suspected TMC goons raided the prestigious Presidency University campus, beating students and vandalising laboratories, party leaders didn’t react by condemning the act or promising an investigation, but said the violence was self-inflicted by the CPI(M) (the SFI controls the college union; the TMC barely has a presence) just to malign Trinamool. For many students who were witness to the unprecedented political assault on an educational institution, the response felt callous. “We were so scared we would be molested that we had a friend lock us in a room from outside so that the goons wouldn’t find us; we turned out the lights and hid under benches,” said a Presidency student.
A beleagured Saradha agent with clients’ details
“The problem is that the TMC has still not been able to shake off the Opposition mentality. It needs to get out of partisan politics, and like most progressive states, embrace a pluralistic approach. Even Narendra Modi himself is trying to shake off his sectarian image in his readiness to brace himself for a larger role. Mamata needs to learn to do that,” says analyst Ganguly.
Ravenous for public recognition as Bengal’s saviour, all Mamata has accomplished till now is a dissipation of her benevolent, sisterly image and considerable goodwill by being on a constant defensive, in denial of her government’s shortcomings and having paranoiac perceptions of loss of face and defeat. Add to that an inability to face reality.
Last month, for example, when Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi visited Calcutta, Mamata had an opportunity to demonstrate that she could rise above perceived competition, and not be bothered by the loud, persistent whispers that Modi was the better CM and had capitalised on her failed industrial policy (the Nano factory was weaned away to Gujarat). Instead, she chose absence, taking a morning flight to Delhi the day Modi was scheduled to arrive in Calcutta. In spite of Modi’s image as a communal rabble-rouser forever tarnished by the Gujarat riots, he commands some grudging respect, even in liberal-secular Calcutta, for the way he has successfully solicited industrial development for Gujarat. In contrast, Mamata is seen as no better than the Left by a city bereft of the glossy markers of well-being that industry delivers. Her move to avoid a probable juxtaposition with Modi only served to bolster that image gap.
Any assessment of the Trinamool finally has to touch the lowest point in a generally poor performance—the TMC supremo’s record of suppressing political dissent. The litany of retaliatory wounds by the Trinamool run deep. Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra was arrested and roughed up for circulating an e-mail that caricatured the chief minister. College student Tanya Bhardwaj was labelled a “Maoist” for simply asking the CM a critical question. Shiladitya Chowdhury, a Jangalmahal farmer, was also tarred with the same brush and arrested at a rally for asking the CM why fertiliser prices were going up. All of these events attracted the ire of civil society. Mamata’s style has often been termed ‘fascist’ even by erstwhile supporters like author Mahasweta Devi.
The compound effect of her many faults has gradually eroded Mamata’s support base, especially throughout urban Bengal. Yet she blunders on, now with a heightened sensitivity about the impending panchayat polls. A majority of the victims of the Saradha scam are from the Bengal countryside—a TMC bastion since Nandigram. A loss of face before 2014 is hardly desirable. The near future could tell if its inner defences are breached.
Having been an Outlook reader from its first issue, I’ve rarely come across a shoddier piece as the article occasioned by the Mamata Banerjee government completing two years (Scorched Grassroots, May 20). Most perniciously, it tries to introduce a new discourse into Bengal’s political narrative—caste politics, so alien to Bengal’s political culture. Regarding the present government’s performance, the Left Front left the state in a mess; to remedy that will take more than two years. And the Trinamool government is doing a good job in instilling a work culture, and enabling rural empowerment. The article mentioned the chit fund bubble, but conveniently glossed over the fact that these firms came into existence and flourished during Left rule.
D.K. Roy, Calcutta
After Gujarat and Karnataka, the job of the Left/liberal/secular media is to go after Mamata. Have you seen such trenchant criticism on Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana or Andhra? Goes to show the media is on Congress payroll.
The difference in meaning of the two words ‘ chit’ and ‘cheat’ in comparison with the similar pronunciation of the two, is very much identical and ironical. The irony of fate i.e., the greed of making more money in short period of time, made thousands of people hopeless with a fear of losing their life savings invested in Sarada Group of Companies, a renowned chit fund company closely associated with the State Government agents. In absence of strict law and lack of proper way to return the money to the depositors in such cases , there is no other option but to compromise with the situation . The moral of the story is -----“ The greedy persons always suffer and curse their fate “ …”Jaa gachheye ta gachheye..”
Mahesh >> Have you seen such analysis from Outlook on Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Govt.
OUTLOOK's sister publication - Outlook Business, carried an entire edition, some months back, on Jagan Mohan Reddy's business empire and the way he built an entire empire of money using illicit means.
This came, right when JMR was on some yatra and threatening to bring down the CON party govt at AP. Not in 2009, when JMR and YSR were the darlings of the CON party.
This is OUTLOOK for you. Sold their souls to 10 Janpath long back.
Dear Bengali Brothers and sisters,
Agree that you are disappointed with Mamata didi's two year rule (or misrule). But wait - you were patiently tolerating 35 years of destructive Left rule. You gave so much room to a ideology that destroyed the state.
Why cant you give more time for mamata to prove her competence or lack of it?
PS - Mamata's failure as CM cannot be seen as failure of a leader. It is more about failure of post independence West Bengal society in understanding that free enterprise and hard work are the foundation pillars of a prosperous society. Till West Bengal intellectuals understand this truth, even god cannot save the state.
A small 'chit' to Didi. Learn from karnataka poll result.
What voter need is Good Governance. Shed the Ego.
Show 'Mamata' .
After Gujarat, Karnataka, now the job of Left/Liberal/Secular Media is to go after Mamata Bannerjee and fix her. Normally CBI wont able to do it.
Have you seen such analysis from Outlook on Delhi, Rajasthan, Haryana and Andhra Govt.
Talking of Delhi, with such rampant corruption during CWG games and the shame which nation has sufferered, why there was no sustained campaign by this very media.
It proves the point that media is on the payroll of congress party.
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