Political poriborton (change) took time coming — 34 years — to West Bengal, but the state welcomed it with euphoria and hope. Swept to power by an overwhelming mandate, Mamata Banerjee walked into the state secretariat from Raj Bhavan surrounded by a sea of supporters and common people on May 20, 2011, giving an impression that she was more of a people’s princess than a head of government.
Cut to May, 2012. The hope of a better society and administration lingers on, but the euphoria, of having brought in a Trinamool Congress government after more than three decades of Left rule, has waned.
First, she meant business; second, the administration had to wake up from deep slumber; and third, ministers and senior officers would be accountable for their work and actions.
As the year passed, she achieved in making the babus sit up and respond to the call of common people. Yet, the police and many of her officers faced charges of corruption and continued enjoying not being answerable.
The immediate fruits of poriborton people expected remain unavailable.
Yet, people such as taxi driver Pasang Tamang of Darjeeling have reasons to celebrate. “We are happy that there is peace in the hills (being credited to the CM) and the tourists are back, boosting our business prospects.”
Even in Lalgarh, which required an armed operation to flush out Maoists, there is a sense of relief. Manoranjan Mahato of Purnapani village in the area said, “The days of terror and tension are over. Now we can return home at night even alone.”
But what about the people of Singur and Nandigram, the hotbed of anti-land acquisition agitations spearheaded by Mamata Banerjee before she swept to power?
“We have no income since December 2006. Condition of other families in our village, like Beraberi and Purbapara, is even worse because they did not get any compensation on any grounds. There will be no change in our lives until we get out land back,” said Krishna Bag, a land loser of Singur who spent two nights in jail with her two-year-old daughter, Payel, in September 2006.
Chanchal Nanda, a school teacher of Nandigram, is equally bitter. “Only the colours (from Left’s red to Trinamool’s green) have changed. The situation remains the same. We had thought otherwise.”
A year is too little a span to judge a new government. Yet, the CM went overboard and declared how her government had fulfilled 90% of the promises within 200 days of coming to power.
“We have completed 10 years of work in 10 months. Now, we will only monitor,” the CM said, while unveiling a glossy booklet on her government’s achievements.
Such statements have invited scrutiny and criticism from many quarters.
Jnanpith award-winning writer Mahasweta Devi, who supported Mamata Banerjee, during her days of agitation, has been critical of her government on many issues. According to the writer, there should be a reality check on whether there has been a real change in the lives of the people in the villages who were instrumental in bringing about the change in the government.
Leader of the opposition, Surya Kanta Mishra, said, “This poriborton has not only failed to achieve anything, it is reversing the development undertaken by the Left Front government.”
State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharya, however, feels the new government took the right steps in resolving the crisis in trouble-torn Jangalmahal (forest areas of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia districts where Maoists are active) and the Darjeeling hills. He said the government was also fighting well to tide over the economic crisis.
If Mamata Banerjee was in a hurry and made unwitting mistakes, it was her style of functioning that remained her brand throughout. She took impulsive decisions, made meaningless statements in her rush to show off her initiatives. As she announced projects and promised thousands of jobs, her officers had no clue where the money would come from.
To her credit, she ordered overhauling of the education system and formed a mentor group for Presidency University with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen at the helm. The CM also initiated a child-friendly syllabus and changed the marking system in secondary and higher secondary level.
The positives, however, were marred by attacks of Trinamool strongmen on educational institutions including assault of teachers. Education minister Bratya Basu’s college had to be closed following trouble engineered by his party activists.
“This is not the change we wanted. Corruption is everywhere and so is politicisation of all spheres and suppression of democratic voices,” said Provash Ghosh, general secretary of Trinamool Congress’ former ally SUCI (Communist).Even Bhattacharya agrees that Trinamool is aiming at one-party rule, much like rival CPI(M).
If the CM is a well-meaning benefactor of common people, her government’s priorities seem to have gone haywire. Rich football clubs such as Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have got cash doles from her even as infants have died in district hospitals lacking infrastructure.
One of the government’s remarkable weaknesses is in finance and industry. While the government is groaning under a mountain of debt — R2.26 lakh crore in 2012-13 — and thoroughly inadequate revenue, private sector investments, crucial for generating jobs, have been few.
Among investors the government has come to be known as anti-industry, especially for its no-acquisition policy for land.
On the other hand, suicides by farmers — mostly due to inability to repay loans due to poor realisation of prices — have brought more controversy for the government.
The CM has been battling to attract investment, while remaining inflexible about land and anti-SEZ policies. Her promise of a clean administration is being undone by party workers who face charges of having become extortionists. What’s more, the police are perceived as a stooge of the ruling party.
Many people, like civil engineer Kaushik Banerjee, feel the CM should be given more time to address key issues. “She has a brand new team and a majority of the team members has no experience in administration. Except for people like Subrata Mukherjee, who has started making a difference in the rural development sector, no one seems to have any inkling about what’s going on in their department,” he said.
Theatre personality Kaushik Sen said, “In many ways, the government has become autocratic.” This is his assessment of the arrest of a Jadavpur University professor for circulating a spoof (which was already out on social media fora) of the CM and her confidant, railway minister Mukul Roy, over the internet.
Artist Suvaprasanna, however, feels otherwise. “There is new life in the administration and all-round development has been undertaken in all spheres.”For the moment, West Bengal is probably willing to give the CM the benefit of the doubt and more time. But in one year, people have shown her they will resist perceivably threatening poriborton. Such hints, taken in the right spirit, will keep the government honest.
Courting controversy | A reality check