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Very strange bedfellows

It is striking that in the race to be many things to many segments of voters, the Trinamool Congress has used the strategy of acquisitions and mergers to polarise the political space in West Bengal. Shikha Mukherjee reports.

india Updated: Mar 25, 2011 22:58 IST
Shikha Mukherjee

It is striking that in the race to be many things to many segments of voters, the Trinamool Congress has used the strategy of acquisitions and mergers to polarise the political space in West Bengal. Using politics as the solvent, it has brought on board people who are ideologically very different, in the belief that it will need this diversity when it forms the government.

Quite apart from the almost unbridgeable gap that separates the 'Ma-Mati-Manush' ideology from that of the 'Market', it has gifted nominations to dyed-in-the-wool conservatives like retired bureaucrats and police officers as well as to political activists who were once part of the ultra-Left. Buoyed by the sustained mood among voters against the 34 year reign of the CPI(M)-led Left Front, the optimistic belief seems to be that ideological differences can be smoothly blended by the compulsions of delivering effective and efficient government.

So the Trinamool Congress is confident of nominating both the former Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) secretary general Amit Mitra who is as ardent an advocate of market reforms as he is of the political Left, as it's about making Becharam Manna, convenor of the Singur-based Farmland Protection Committee, who uses terms like 'neo-colonialism' to describe foreign investments. The party's nominees include the retired state chief secretary Manish Gupta, a handful of police officers and men such as Purnendu Bose, now a trade union leader but once a Maoist. The mantra of change clearly unites them all and perhaps an ideological opposition to the politics of the 'communists'. To be the change, these individuals have joined the party. The point is: are they all on the same page?

The universe inhabited by Manna is not the familiar universe of Mitra, Gupta and even Bose. Land acquisition at a fair price, the fairness being determined from the perspective of industry, may seem reasonable to some of the new faces, whereas for Manna the calculation could be very different. The Manna version may be more acceptable to the lakhs of voters who were electrified by the 'Ma-Mati-Manush' slogan. Having acquired this diversity of opinions and experiences, it is for the Trinamool to decide how it will utilise them to fulfill its promise of change and better governance.

A radical transformation of West Bengal is the unifying idea; but that is not an ideology. Radicalism is also not an ideology. West Bengal is perhaps the only state where every political party prefaces its adoption of economic reforms with an apology about its necessary evil. If elsewhere, initiatives on foreign direct investment and special economic zones, land acquisition and contract farming were challenged by activists, in West Bengal these were conflicted issues for mainstream political parties. Voters responded to the 'Ma-Mati-Manush' slogan because it promised them a return to a safe pace of slow creeping change rather than the 'do it now' kind advocated by cm Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

The challenge for West Bengal as much as its political leadership is one of finding a model that accommodates market reforms within inclusive development. Whether this can be done at all is what Mitra, Manna, Gupta et al and Mamata Banerjee would need to figure out. Everyone will agree on the need for factories. Where and how that factory will come up may split them. The distortion of expectations has perhaps created a preference for 'low hanging fruit' rather than soaring aspirations. Reconciling the incongruent positions is the task the Trinamool has set for itself once it assumes power as government.

Shikha Mukherjee is a Kolkata-based political commentator

The views expressed by the author are personal