Friday, Aug 19, 2022

Calcutta Corner

If you thought the TMC objection to FDI in retail was limited to foreign investors think again. They also oppose the entry of domestic capital in the retail sector.

Why Just Foreign?

If you thought the TMC objection to FDI in retail was limited to foreign investors think again. This week Partha Chatterjee, the Bengal commerce and industries minister spoke of plans to table in the Assembly a resolution that would oppose the entry of domestic capital in the retail sector also. Essentially this means that, if passed, domestic multi-brand retail giants such as Big Bazaar, Reliance Fresh, Spencer’s, More and Pantaloons, will no longer be able carry on business in Bengal. Actually, the TMC, even when it was in the opposition in Bengal during the Left regime had tried to block big corporation investment in retail. They swept to power highlighting their pro-poor, farmer-friendly image, usurped from the earlier Left (the Left of the Jyoti Basu era), which during its last decade under the chief ministership of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya was on an ‘industrialize Bengal’ drive. In the Bengal Assembly, during the last years of the Left regime, the Left and Congress united to vote in favour of investment in the retail sector. TMC played this up as anti-people and the industrialization drive was perceived to be the downfall of the Left (its forceful land acquisition in Singur and Nandigram for industry caused it to lose their traditional voter base in the agricultural areas).

And during these last few years of the Left regime, the only foreign business that was could open shop in Calcutta was the German Metro Carry and Cash, that too only as wholesalers, not retailer. Only those with a trade license could buy at its one outlet in the city. Well, now that TMC is in power and that too with a majority in Assembly, nothing can keep them from passing the anti-investment bill and scrapping the licenses even of the domestic investors. And what better timing than just before the Panchayat polls? But the interesting thing to note would be too see how the Left votes if and when the resolution is presented in Assembly. After it lost Bengal to TMC the Left seems to have turned around its ‘investment in retail’ policy and it found itself on the same side as Mamata Banerjee when she opposed the UPA II’s FDI in retail policy. The Congress will of course oppose the resolution. Looks like the TMC has checkmated the Left yet again.

Didi Dialect

For the rest of the nation Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s mimicking Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on national television during an interview to the news channel CNN-IBN may have come as a bit of a shock but for us in Bengal it doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Her interesting use of the English language— in which words and phrases take on a meaning of their own— too is something we are used to. In fact, we have learnt to decode them. And if you live in Calcutta and don’t know what she means that is supposed to be your problem.

Graphic Courtesy, The Telegraph

Since before the elections we have grown accustomed to the Didi- dialect, which is essentially a conglomeration of facial-expressions and hand-gestures, punctuated with heavy doses of spiritual and literary allusions to Tagore and Swami Vivekananda, sprinkled generously with malapropisms. So when in response to the interviewer Rajeep Sardesai’s question whether she was consulted by the PM before taking the decision on FDI in retail, she acted out what he said — “Soooo we have the problemmmmmm… you may cooommme discussss sometiiiime…” — for many in Bengal it was not so much bemusing as amusing. And my guess is that Manmohan Singh possibly knows Mamata Banerjee well enough by now to only be saddened (to use the word he used when the TMC ministers went to his residence to tender their resignations from his government), but not shocked.

30 Hour Week

Teachers in the government colleges around Bengal are often accused of not attending class, something which has been blamed for the sorry state of education in the districts. However, that looks set to change. There are some 450 government colleges across Bengal. All of them will be issued a circular by the state’s higher education department to make it mandatory for teachers to put in a minimum of five working hours per day, six days a week. Apparently the Left Front government had tried to bring the teachers to class in a similar fashion when it issued such a circular to the government colleges in 1999. But then it is well-known that during the Left regime government servants often took it for granted that once they got the job no amount of indiscipline or inefficiency would remove them, so long as they had the backing of the party. And quality of education in the state was one of the worst hit by this attitude. The current move comes after the central education body University Grants Commission recommended a more stringent work-week for teachers at government colleges.

Bengali Vicky Donor?

Vicky Donor to be made in Bengali? Not exactly, but according to reports, director Soojit Sircar, who is a Bengali, is now planning to make a film in Bengali after his Hindi movie on sperm-donation became a major hit. Whatever the subject of his Bengali film, that the theme of Vicky Donor has really made an impact in Calcutta is evident. A friend of mine, a single mother, who had a test tube baby recently, found it easier to convince her parents of her decision after she brought home a CD of the film. At the Apollo hospital, where her daughter was born, her father, exasperated at the hospital registrar’s constant questions about the child’s father, was heard snapping, “Haven’t you watched Vicky Donor?”

Cops' Wisdom

A Calcutta traffic police road sign, warning drivers to take it slow: “Time is money…but life is precious.”