Calcutta Corner

So now that the West Bengal secretariat shifts out of the Writers' Building, will the change in locale have an impact on quality of governance?
Calcutta Corner

'A Tinderbox'

Writers’ Buildings, the West Bengal Secretariat, is no longer going to be the state’s seat of power. At least not for the next three months. The big news was broken to journalists last Wednesday. But political compulsions is not what influenced the decision. The reasons were logistical: large scale renovation. “The Writers’ Building has turned into a tinderbox,” explained chief minister Mamata Banerjee, “causing panic to employees. The centuries-old building requires immediate repairs. I want safety of my employees.” Built in 1777 Writers Buildings was constructed to house clerks of the East India, who were also known as writers, which explains the name. For the moment the government will operate from an administrative building in Howrah. Not surprisingly the decision has met with quite a bit of resistance and criticism with detractors pointing out that the 200 crore project is not only a colossal waste of money, but also virtually impossible to execute and will throw everything off gear. The most important question to ask is: Will the change in locale have an impact on quality of governance? Only time will tell.

Bengal Bleeds

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The way both Mamata Banerjee and Mukesh Ambani weree smiling at the Mumbai industrial meet last week, it was difficult to tell who was happier. The Bengal chief minister or the head of Reliance Industries Limited. Didi possibly could hardly believe her luck when the top industrialist dropped in at the meeting which had been organized to woo investors to Bengal. After all, no industrialist worth his salt was seen anywhere near the vicinity of Bengal lately. So much so that last year’s annual Bengal industrial meet, Bengal Leads, was nicknamed Bengal Bleeds, after it got the royal snub from most industry heavyweights. Ambani on the other hand may have been excited about his improved prospects of getting a share of Bengal Haldia Petrochemicals – which he has reportedly been eyeing – by hobnobbing with the Bengal CM. Well, it seems to be a symbiotic relationship. In the meantime, the government has already earmarked one hundred acres from its ten thousand-acre land for Ambani, who has announced plans to invest around 3000 crores in the state and set up his 4 G network. Evidently he is not put off by the state’s hands-off land policy which has deterred others from wishing to set up shop in the state. In return, he has much to gain. The least of which is a virtually competition-free market. So he does have much to smile about. 

Who's Smiling Now?

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Speaking of smiling, not too long ago Didi told us that Darjeeling was smiling. But, even at that time, more than Darjeeling it was Didi who was smiling. Because every time Bimal Gurung, the leader of the Gorkhaland movement, flashed a smile he also simultaneously issued a veiled threat— that the stir for a separate state could re-ignite at any moment. But Didi either hoped that the threat would go away if she ignored it, or that it wouldn’t at least reignite in any foreseeable future. So she was content to have paved the way for the creation the Gorkha Territorial Administration thinking that the semi-independent administrative body would keep the people of the hills of North Bengal equally happy. But it was a lack of political farsightedness that she didn’t see what granting statehood to Telengana would mean for her. Also, unfortunately for her, she has forfeited her power to put pressure on the central government when she walked out of the UPA last year. So she finds herself dealing with Darjeeling alone. The centre did send five companies of paramilitary but this confrontational approach will ultimately spell political doom in the hills. The centre of course is playing a clever game by being the good cop. As Mamata and her ministers— North Bengal development minister Gautam Deb too issued warnings to the hill people that any kind of dissent would be crushed with a heavy hand— get aggressive, the centre is taking a soft diplomatic line with the Gorkhas. They heard Gurung out patiently and asked him to maintain peace without taking the same strict stance as the Bengal state government. At any rate, a frowning Didi would now agree that Darjeeling is now scowling.

Helps Being A Rocket Scientist...

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The ABP group’s annual “Shera Bangali” (Best Bengali) awards ceremony sees talented Bengalis from across the world return to Calcutta to be felicitated for their contribution in myriad fields. While many of the recipients of the award are Bengalis who live in Calcutta, each year Bengalis eagerly wait to see who the “probashi Bangali” (the Bengali living outside of Calcutta/Bengal) would be. Among those to have been recognized previously are Amartya Sen and Pranab Mukherjee among non-Calcutta Bengalis and Sourav Ganguly among the Calcutta residents. This week, the event’s 9th anniversary brought back rocket scientist Anita Sengupta, without whose engineering brilliance, NASA’s space mission on Mars wouldn’t be a smooth landing. Though she cannot speak a word of Bengali (she left 17 years ago)— when asked by one of the hosts to say a few things in Bengali, she said it was difficult but managed somehow to pronounce “Poschim Bongo”, then reverted to English saying, “it’s nice to be back here” — Bengal still claims its own. “In fact, one of the most endearing qualities about this recognition is that you could be far away from anything Bengali, but suddenly you would be made aware that you have a connection to this great land,” said one of the recipients. Another scientist to have been felicitated this year was Dr Sunando Bandyopadhyay for his role in the discovery of God particle. 

All in the Name

As Durga Puja draws nearer and Bengal’s potters are looking for inspiration to model their idols, the face that is likely to come up big time is that of the brave IAS officer Durga Shakti. North Calcutta’s Kumartuli where the idols of Durga are sculpted from clay is known for its potter’s penchant for thematic representations. For instance, in 2011, many potters modelled their idols on the visage of Mamata Banerjee, who had won just become chief. The year that Lady Diana died in a car crash in faraway Europe, several Bengal potters made the tragic princess their muse. Filmmaker Rituporno Ghosh immortalized this trend amongst potters in his film Antarmahal, where the sculptor (played by Abhishek Bachhan) working for a wealthy zamindar models his Durga after the landlord’s wife (played by Soha Ali Khan) with whom he has fallen in love. In fact, the brave IAS officer couldn’t be a more appropriate choice as a model…both for her name and what she stands for.

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