Mamata Banerjees exit from the UPA may well resonate unhappily in West Bengal
Mamata Banerjee came to power on the promise of change. However,she has not delivered on it,except with sops wrung from the Centre. Now that she has sundered her links with the Centre,will she devote more time to the state and make good her promise?
It seems unlikely. Several factors conspire to stymie reform in West Bengal. The state would like to attract investment but does not have the funds to build the necessary infrastructure. Now that the chief minister has lost leverage at the Centre,the chance of securing bailouts appears remote. The approximately Rs 2 lakh crore outstanding debt that Banerjee inherited from the Left is poised to soar. The ADB has agreed in principle to a $400 million loan for Bengal,but the terms require ending the kind of wasteful expenditure that Banerjee,an ardent populist,would be loath to end. In the circumstances,projects that were planned or are in their initial stages could end up stillborn. A pall of uncertainty could now hang over railway projects worth approximately Rs 70,000 crore sanctioned for her state,for instance,or those under the PMGSY,or even the Rs 5,000 crore East-West corridor of the Kolkata Metro. Meanwhile,the work culture of West Bengal has not improved and politics remains defined by cadre-based violence. Banerjee is just as comfortable as the Left with using state machinery for political ends,as the summary arrest of insignificant political opponents shows. Neither progressive political culture nor business can grow in such an atmosphere.
Banerjees honeymoon period in the state ended some months before her divorce from the UPA. Politically,this is not necessarily bad news for Banerjee. She is now in a position to carry forward an old strategy that had contributed to keeping the Left in power for over three decades: peevish opposition to the Centre,endless complaints of step-motherly treatment and a culture of victimhood. Pranab Mukherjees refusal,as finance minister,to countenance a special package for West Bengal had opened the door to such politics. Banerjee can blame her failures on the Centre,and hope that the electorate will believe her.