As the West Bengal chief minister turned 60 and reached the threshold of completing her first five-year term in office, what better way to celebrate the occasion than kicking off a vibrant Junglemahal Utsav — a tribal festival in the heart of what used to be a violent Maoist territory.
The territory constitutes one of her major achievements in government; that she can hold a cultural extravaganza there speaks volumes for how things have changed. The All India Trinamool Congress is hoping to reap a rich dividend from the region that accounts for over 50 assembly seats — it is geared up to make a clean sweep of most of these LWE affected districts like West Midnapore, East Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia.
Mamata Banerjee’s birthday comes close on the heels of the recently concluded four-day CPM party plenum in Kolkata where Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Karat, Biman Bose and Surya Kanta Mishra – all Politburo members — split hairs trying to find ways to make the Communist party attractive to the young generation. The Communists have realized, following the rout after 34 years in West Bengal, that its membership had dipped menacingly and that its women representation within the party’s rank and file and hierarchy is appalling. Gerontocracy has hit the party hard and the four-day deliberations sought to find some answers to its woes.
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In contrast, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress and her core team in the government today, as well as in the party, look much younger, dynamic, energetic and flexible. The West Bengal chief minister has a core team comprising ministers like Firad Hakim, Arup Biswas, Sovan Chatterjee, Sashi Panja, Bratya Basu, Rajib Banerjee , Jyotipriyo Mullick and Purnendu Bose. These leaders are in their early ‘50s or even less. Mamata has retained a few old hands in her cabinet, largely for their experience and expertise in their respective fields.
In this election year, Mamata Banerjee has already set off on her campaign for a second term, sounding robust on her development initiatives. There are perceptible changes and improvements in physical infrastructure and the social sector. Her flagship Kanyashree project has had a deep impact with close to 2.8 million girls in its purview. The CM has also embarked on an ambitious project to provide subsidised foodgrains to nearly 7 crore of the state’s total of 9 crore population.
Apart from development and the overwhelming support of the minority Muslims — who constitute over 28 per cent of the population — she is also likely to benefit from a split in the opposition votes between the Left, the BJP and to some extent the Congress.
The absence of big industry, unemployment, lawlessness in educational institutions, the crisis in the tea industry and internal fights within the Trinamool are some areas which political adversaries will emphasize in the campaign and try to capitalize on.
However, on her birthday, Didi seems to be solidly in the saddle for a second term in office.