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Red to green for investment

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:24 IST

Hindustan Times
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Now that the starched dhotis have been replaced by the crumpled sari in Writers' Buildings, the atmospherics have to give way to the real tasks at hand. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has been the catalyst for the state's desire for change after a generation of rule by the Communists and now she will have to pore over the development statistics. On the face of it, West Bengal, does not seem to have done too poorly under the Left Front. Its per capita income is 7% lower than the national average, and, significantly, this is growing apace with the rest of the country. It is am-ong the top five states in economic heft. Its treasury is not empty. And its literacy and health indices do not lag perilously. Statistically speaking, Didi has very little to fix. Except one area: the systematic de-industrialisation of the state under the Left Front. Between 2001 and 2009, a fifth of India's inc-ome was earned in its factories. Over the same time Bengal's industry yielded a tenth of the state's output. Just when the Communists were waking up to this vital statistic, Ms Banerjee swept them aside riding a groundswell of outrage against "land grabbing" big industry.

Reconciling the forces that brought her into power with those that will ensure she stays in it is a tall order for the volatile Ms Banerjee, an untried administrator. Five years is far too short for the re-industrialisation of West Bengal. The decay of the previous 35 years is too far gone. But if the state's share of industrial output is to catch up with the rest of the nation, Ms Banerjee will have to undertake a serious overhaul of the investment climate from the word go. She does not have the luxury of settling in — the Communists may be out of government but their grip on the trade unions remains. Bengal needs to chuck its work culture if it hopes to change. Ms Banerjee will now have to look into the state's plumbing and flush out the malignant unionism that chokes economic activity.

Rearguard action by unions could stymie the best efforts to stop the rot in West Bengal. A street-fighter like Ms Banerjee must be aware of the opposition she faces to any serious reform of the state's economy. Yet her landslide win could give her the space, initially, to push through unpalatable structural changes. Physical and social infrastructure must rank high on her agenda and she could use her party's position in the UPA to wrangle more benefits from Delhi. To a lot of people in West Bengal and outside, Ms Banerjee is a miracle worker. She may not be able to turn water into wine in the way she turned red into green. But at least for the moment, people still believe she can.

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