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Inheritance of loss

Besides grappling with a bankrupt state, Mamata Banerjee as chief minister will also have to deal with a bitter Left and get a grip on law and order. Anirban Choudhury reports.

kolkata Updated: May 14, 2011 01:50 IST
Anirban Choudhury

What drives Mamata Banerjee’s politics? For one of her closest aides, Partha Chatterjee, the question has a simple, single-word answer: “conviction”.

It was this conviction that propelled her political journey in 1976 as a Chhatra Parishad activist at Kolkata’s Jogamaya Devi College. Thirty-five years later, her conviction to drive away the CPI(M) has put her in charge of West Bengal.

Is her mission over? Not quite. The toughest challenge for the new chief minister may, ironically, come from a wounded CPI(M).

“What she did in Singur and Nandigram with 35 MLAs, we will do the same with double the number. They (members of the new government) will be paid back in the same coin,” said Gautam Deb, CPI(M) central committee member and a minister in the outgoing government.

Deb's statement is ominous for the new government as resistance from the CPI(M), with its organisational roots spreading deep in villages, can scuttle many developmental projects.

“The first challenge before Mamata is to ensure the establishment of law and order. Second, she has to ensure that the economy begins to perform,” said Dipankar Dasgupta, a former professor of economics at the Indian Statistical Institute. “She needs to attract large doses of investment to create enough jobs and ensure more revenues to rescue the government from its bankruptcy.”

On the last day of voting, when all polls pointed to a Left drubbing, the Trinamool chief appeared to be busy splashing colours on a canvas, humming Tagore’s songs. Yet, she was aware of the problems ahead.

“The coffers are empty and the administration is in a mess. The police administration is partisan,” she said in one breath. There is no immediate solution in sight to the Rs 2 lakh crore debt. And how would she deal with the Maoists? “Wait and see,” she said.

In the past three decades, Bengal has got used to a bureaucracy and police that gave unflinching support to the Left. Obedience was the keyword for babus and those who faltered, were seldom forgiven. Key police postings were reportedly decided at Alimuddin Street, at the CPI(M) headquarters --and vice chancellors selected at closed-door party meetings.

To make a clean break from this style of functioning, Mamata needs the support of the one-million-plus state government employees. While the CPI(M) operated as a party, the Trinamool Congress is a single-leader wonder with single-window policies.

In her politics, Mamata did not have much of an agenda, except the sole aim of ousting the Left. In power, lack of an agenda and a well-defined hierarchy may affect the efficiency of the government. Mamata, a partner in the UPA government, has to also deal with the Congress in New Delhi – and in West Bengal.

So far, she held the upper hand, but as the new head of a bankrupt state, she would depend heavily on help from New Delhi. The opposition and media will take a hard look at her stance on issues such as land acquisition at Singur.

Around 1,000 acres was acquired for the Nano car project by the Tatas. “We will give 400 acres back to the farmers,” she declared at various meetings. What she says as chief minister – on this and other controversial issues --will attract much more scrutiny.