In Defense of Mamata Banerjee: Destination Resurgent Bengal

Take a state. Subject it to misrule for more than three long decades, systematically purging it of all industrial activities with a committed agenda of destroying its institutions by infiltrating the ranks with loyalists and forcing out the deserving. Add to this fiscal profligacy leading to a state where the exchequer is empty with the entire economy tottering on the edge of collapse. With the icing on the cake being a callous workforce that is totally work averse and industriousness a term largely unknown.

This is the “state” that the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress inherited riding the unprecedented mandate for change a year and a half back. And I write this for a reason – one has to be in context, when commenting on the infant Government’s efforts towards industry led resurgence of West Bengal and its economic destiny.

It is a tad bit sad that the very same people who are responsible for creating the quagmire of lost hope that West Bengal today is, are the ones who are most vociferous in condemning the efforts of the Government. Perhaps they do not believe in the old dictum that “those who live in glass houses should not throw stones”. Perhaps the shenanigans are deliberate – a Goebbelsian “Big Lie” attempt to distract the attention from the misdeeds of the past. But that is another story.

Fact is, irrespective of the din that is being created; the Government is not only doing all that it can, but is doing it with honest diligence. And let me highlight some of the steps that are being implemented today that will surely stand us in good stead tomorrow.

Two of the states important regions – the hills and the jungles – were literally aflame when the Government assumed the responsibility of running the state. Full credit should be given to the way the situation was handled and the potential tinderbox diffused. Yes, it has far reaching economic ramifications – for without peace, one can never have prosperity.

The other area that has got the Cassandra’s shouting doomsday from the rooftops relates to the Haldia dock complex. Let me humbly point out how it used to be run – like a personal fiefdom in the not so distant past during the tenure of the previous government. Without getting into the controversies of the case, it will be suffice to say that I personally feel that some more time is due to the current incumbents to weed out the deadwood that has accumulated before we can see action. The silting that has taken place over millennia cannot be dredged out in a day and I am sure that the Government will deal with the problems of the entire riverine port system of Kolkata to regain its lost hinterland and past glories.

We often hear people drawing parallels between our state and those of Gujarat or Maharashtra. Allow me to highlight the folly of such a comparison. Firstly, based on the density of population there cannot be any such comparison. Secondly, agriculture being a mainstay here, our people are emotionally attached to the land and the acquisition of land is that much more sensitive as an issue. Thirdly, a tribe of “son of the soil” industrialists is conspicuous in their absence in West Bengal as opposed to our West Indian counterparts. People (read industrialists) who have been nurtured in the past – with licenses to plunder and kill – do not largely have the ability to compete in a free market and it is not unnatural when we hear the veiled threats of withdrawing from the state. If such a “flight of capital” were to happen, mark my words, it will augur well for the state in the long run as it will be marked by the exit of a rare breed of “fixers” who donned the garb of industrialists just by “managing the environment” and maintaining the status quo with the rulers that were.

Getting back to the contentious issue of land acquisition by the Government, one should not forget that the current Government came to power riding the mandate against “land grab”. Naturally, once in power, it cannot back track on its promises and I personally feel that the line of the Government that “the state has no business in forcefully acquiring land for industry” is not only tenable, but will, over time become the norm of the land. If industry cannot “buy” land in a free market at market rates and needs the Government to bulldoze for it, then it has no justification of calling itself a creator wealth in the first place. Yes laws relating to land ceiling continues to rankle, but I am told that the matter is being looked into and the irritant will soon be removed.

“The economy can only be kick started by massive investments is industries in the core sectors for which huge amounts of land will be required” say the states detractors, gleefully adding “that such land is not there in the state”. Let me burst this myth too. There is ample land that is easily available in the less fertile districts of Purulia and Bankura. Yes I know that the immediate retort from such detractors will be that the Government should create the infrastructure for them to go and invest in the said districts. Friends, it is a classic case of the chicken and the egg – we do not know whether it is infrastructure that attracts investments or vice versa. What is needed is the goodwill – come, show us your intention and your gesture will surely be met by the Government with infrastructure.

What then is the way ahead? Instead of lamenting the lack of mega projects we should take a holistic and more practical view of things, exactly what the Government is doing in its pragmatism.

Small and medium scale engineering industry, once the backbone of the state can be revived with little hand holding and I am sure that the Government will do everything to encourage this sector.

West Bengal’s position in the IT and ITES segments is well established. This sector too is getting the attention of the Government and I am sure that the numbers will bear me out. Similarly tourism has a huge potential in the state and out Honourable Chief Minister has already gone on record explaining her desire to sell the state as a tourism hotspot. Agro based industries too can be provided a fillip by creating the cold chains and developing markets which will have the additional benefit of spreading prosperity in the rural areas.

But the real growth driver will surely be the Chief Minister’s pet project the “Finance Hub”. West Bengal with its intellectual capital and highly cost effective mind workers can turn this dream into a reality beyond comprehension and I am sure that we will all be a part of this economic miracle that is about to be unleashed.

A government with an unprecedented mandate is in power. Simply put it means that the leader who has such popular support is not only aware of what the people need but is also capable of delivering the same. The “winds of change” that ripped through the state, mark my words, will soon be converted into a “tsunami of progress and prosperity”.