To a non-partisan onlooker, West Bengal today is an enigma. Open any newspaper, a depressingly negative picture of the state of things hits you in the eyes. Law and order has reached a terrible depth, the economy is wrapped in inertia, the goons of the ruling party are playing havoc. And over this general state of ruins presides a feminine Nero, as golden Bengal burns. This is the unrelenting image that the media have been projecting almost since the new government took over. Yet the ruling party won the Howrah parliamentary byelection single-handedly in June, with its voteshare practically undiminished. Then they handsomely won the panchayat elections. What do you make out of this?
Obviously, Mamata Banerjee lacks guile, or tact in common parlance. She wears her heart on her sleeves. It is obvious too that she has annoyed the media deeply. It appears that being a streetfighter, she fails to speak the language understood by the media and the civil society of the urban middle class. Therefore, she’s found to be autocratic and temperamental. But the moot question is how to judge a person, particularly, a CM? By words or, by deeds? Unfortunately, Mamata’s penchant for saying what would have been better left unsaid and the media’s obsession with her spoken word has prevented it from turning some of its attention to what has been done by the new government.
Firstly, the record of police actions against these crimes under the Trinamool regime would fare much better than that under Left rule. The point is, it’s perhaps only to a certain limited extent that sexual crime can be prevented by policing. Deterrence surely has an important role, and that is the only realm where the government comes in. Ultimately, it’s with lumpenisation of society that such crimes increase in frequency and raising of social awareness is the real need.
We are ordinary, apolitical citizens with a firm belief in democracy. We find that people’s confidence continues to rest with Mamata, if the byelection and panchayat polls results are any indication. When we look around we see better lit and better paved roads in Calcutta, somewhat cleaner surroundings and better managed traffic and drainage systems. The smooth flow of traffic in Calcutta during the last Puja was a refreshing contrast to past years! Load-shedding too has become an event of the past. Rajarhat, Salt Lake and the banks of the Hooghly have been beautified. Some canals are being cleaned. Many urban development projects, including the Metro and flyovers, are under way. Diverse rebuilding activities in Calcutta and other towns have gathered force. Despite a funds crunch, tourism, water supply, education and health sectors have received investment. Backward sections, minorities,and women and child welfare are getting priority. In fact, expenditure on housing for economically weaker sections has gone up by 238.89 per cent. Work culture in government departments has improved drastically. All this has no doubt ruffled a few feathers, but the public is starting to acknowledge the larger good resulting from them.
The hills in north Bengal were quiet until very recently; Jangalmahal is comparatively quieter too. Union rural development minister Jairam Ramesh and Chhattisgarh CM Raman Singh have praised the work done by Bengal in Jangalmahal towards tackling Maoism. There has also been a rise of around 50 per cent in estimated revenue generation by the West Bengal Government—an increase of Rs 10,000 crore over the last year. Planned expenditure in 2012-13 increased by 33.2 per cent over the previous year. Even the Calcutta Municipal Corporation’s finances have improved significantly. The industrial scenario too is looking up.
The middle class appreciates it when the state patronises Bengali culture, and felicitates its artists, craftsmen and literati. Mention must be made of its efforts at rejuvenating Tara Music, a notable music channel of the tainted Saradha Group that faced closure.
In view of these improvements, does a daily trial by the media, or a media-generated frenzy against the TMC government called for? Is neutrality no longer a media ethic? Looking at the one-sided, invariably negative, reports on West Bengal in the press, it would seem these represented the overwhelming opinion of the masses. Yet the ruling party has been able to win the Howrah bypoll comfortably. The panchayat pre-election survey conducted by abp-Ananda-Neilsen, along with the actual election results, confirmed a positive public endorsement of Trinamool. A starker revelation of the disconnect between media reportage and public attitudes couldn’t have been made. It is not a healthy development.
(Prof Sibesh Bhattacharya is a historian; Sudip Bhattacharyya is an economist)