What happens in a state that has surplus power? Well, save for cable faults and other distribution snags, consumers enjoy uninterrupted power supply. But not so in 'power-surplus' Bengal. Outages, especially during the summer months, have become a daily feature over the past few years. From mid-April to end-October, Kolkata and the rest of Bengal become 'powerless' for, at the very least, a couple of hours every day. Road blockades and other forms of protest over power cuts lasting for even 24 hours or more are routine.
The explanation trotted out most of the time is some unit or other in the state's ageing power plants tripping or breaking down after being unable to cope with the steep rise in demand. At any point in time, a couple of units are always out of commission for repairs and maintenance works. This is why there's a substantial shortfall, though not as acute as in Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, during the summer months. But this simple fact will not be acknowledged by those in power, including the power minister. For them, Bengal is a power-surplus state; their reasoning is that the combined capacity of all the power generating units in the state is enough to meet the demand, and more, of Bengal.
But their calculation does not take into account ground realities and other exigencies that invariably crop up, leading to this shortfall day after day. Since power generating plants are old, they'll definitely break down under pressure. Attempts to add to the state's power generating capacity have been few and far between, and all these projects are running many many months behind schedule (like everything in Bengal). The distribution network is also decades old and needs an urgent overhaul. When demand peaks, this network cannot bear the excess load and breaks down frequently. Transmission and distribution losses are still unacceptably high in Bengal and Kolkata. A lot of power pilferage takes place with the active collusion of politicians and the CPI(M) is one of the biggest power thieves (most of the party offices are powered by stolen electricity).
But Bengal's Marxists will not admit to this reality and continue to spread the myth about their state being a 'power-surplus' one. To admit that the old and nearly obsolete generating units and the distribution network breaks down frequently, especially when demand peaks, would, for them, mean a massive loss of face. For years, they're been touting their dubious and often patently false 'achievements' on various fronts.
Fact is, be it education, power, health, transport, pollution-control, civic services, poverty-alleviation, minority welfare and even industrialisation, Bengal lags behind most other states. In fact, Bengal's position is nearly at the bottom of the heap, with even Bihar and Jharkhand beating it in some social indices. Obviously, our rulers are embarrassed at their inability to provide even basic amenities to a vast majority of the people of Bengal even after having been in power for more than three decades now. But being Marxists, they're adept at spinning a web of lies. Perpetuating
myths--like, for instance, their avowed commitment to human rights, or tolerance of dissent, or multi-party
democracy--is something Marxists excel at. And it is only when their shameless hypocrisy gets exposed that they reveal their ugly, atrocious, and true face.
And this is precisely the reason why they've let loose such a lot of vitriol on Governor Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Gandhi's innocuous act of undergoing a voluntary power cut for two hours every day as a show of solidarity with Bengal's 'power-less', really got the CPI(M)'s goat. Because the Mahatma's grandson unwittingly laid bare the hollow claims of the Marxists in a very telling and voluble manner. By deciding to get power supply to the Raj Bhavan switched off for a couple of hours every evening, the Governor eloquently and, like a true Gandhian, turned the spotlights on the sufferings (due to routine power cuts) of the common man in Bengal. Nothing can stand out as a more powerful testimony to the dismal power situation in Bengal, and Bengal's Marxist rulers' abject failure to remedy the situation, than the grand Raj Bhawan in Kolkata bathed in spectacular darkness.
Being totally intolerant of criticism--and this stems from the Marxists' exasperating 'we know best' and 'we can do no wrong' attitudes--the CPI(M) apparatchiks' reaction to Gopalkrishna's 'Gandhigiri' was, thus, hardly surprising. CPI(M) state secretary Biman Bose and party state committee member Shyamal Chakraborty--both obnoxious, autocratic, hypocritical and offensive men known for their angry outbursts--led the ugly assault on Gandhi. Chakraborty, in fact, outdid everyone and kept on criticizing the Governor for days at a stretch. Foolish suggestions were put forth by these 'leaders'--that the Governor ought to travel on foot like so many others do, that he ought to forgo a meal a day like so many others in Bengal (an unwittingly frank admission of the prevalence of widespread poverty in Bengal even after 30 years of Left rule!) or even stay in a slum like most Kolkatans do (again, what a shame for the Marxists!). But if these odious statements were meant to "expose" Gandhi, they achieved exactly the opposite.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is, today, more firmly ensconced in the common man's heart as a 'people's Governor', the repulsive Boses and Chakrabortys notwithstanding.
What really defies logic and understanding is how men like Bose and Chakraborty, who ought to be acutely aware of their intellectual and moral bankruptcy and vacuousness, even dare to enter into a debate with an accomplished, suave, intellectually and morally superior by far and unblemished gentleman like Gopalkrishna Gandhi. By criticizing Gandhi, Bose, Chakraborty & Co only serve to highlight their own ignorance and pettiness and make themselves out to be the small men of straw that they are. Gandhi's accomplishments and his intellect, as anyone who has met and interacted with the Governor or even heard him speak would undoubtedly testify, far surpasses that of any Marxist in Bengal. I wonder if Biman and Shyamal are even aware of how crass, gross, inane and ugly they sound when they open their mouths to criticize others.
One would have expected the soft-spoken and sensible power minister to admit that there are serious problems in the power sector and they need fixing. Nothing would have been lost by such an admission. If anything, he would have won plaudits. But he, too, chose to say he was "deeply hurt" by the Governor's act and repeated the now-discredited claim that Bengal is a power surplus state. The minister blamed cable faults and unforeseen circumstances for the regular outages. He should have, instead, accepted that aging power plants and the distribution network cannot take in extra loads imposed during the summer months and they need to be replaced. He ought to have laid down a roadmap for augmenting power generation in the state. He ought to have told us by when we can expect to get uninterrupted power supply. He ought to have told us when the machinery imported from China (for the new power plants in Bengal) would start running and generating power. By choosing to stay silent on these, the minister has conveyed the impression that no major improvement is expected on the power front in the near future. Not, at least, as long the Marxists are in power.