By walking out of the UPA,Mamata limits her options instead of widening them
Raising the pitch of her dissent,Mamata Banerjee has announced her decision to pull out of the UPA government,in which the Trinamool Congress (TMC) participated for three years. Doing so might have consolidated her image as a crusader,but the TMC chief also proves that her DNA of populism triumphs over pragmatism in most crucial decisions. Besides,with her withdrawal of support to UPA 2,Banerjee seems to have reached a place where she limits her political and economic options instead of widening them. What she gains is a political turf in which she is at once crusader and ruler a unique space in which to manipulate her unpredictable politics.
When she announced her decision on Tuesday,Banerjee made two crucial points. First,her ministers will submit their resignations on Friday,after offering prayers. Second,the Trinamool Congress will not be party to the Left- and BJP- sponsored bandhs on September 20,even though they plan to raise the same issues on which she wants to walk out of the government. The implication is clear Banerjee does not want to be bracketed with either the Left or the BJP. Also,by referring to Friday prayers,she addressed her biggest electoral constituency the Muslims,most of whom had moved away from the Congress. In the context of 2014,the TMC certainly cannot afford to have any truck with the BJP and its allies. Neither can it be part of any combination in a possible UPA 3,given the present showdown and deep-rooted differences in policy. In a scenario in which the Trinamool Congress expects to notch up 30-35 MPs from West Bengal in the next Lok Sabha polls,the partys role is likely to be restricted to a third alternative.
Within West Bengal,Banerjees move takes the wind out of the CPMs sails whatever was left,that is. The communists in Bengal and elsewhere have been praying for and instigating a split between the Congress and the TMC to revive their fortunes. But the issues on which the TMC has quit the government are arguably down to earth and capable of swaying popular sentiments unlike the nuclear deal,which did not affect the common people. This has the potential to severely shrink the political space of the Left. Even in her inconsistency,Didi has been consistent in eating into the support base of the Left in Bengal. Right from the days of the Singur land agitation,the TMC rank and file has gained and swelled from a tacit shift in support from the communists to Banerjee,not only in Bengal but from Delhi too. In the aftermath of her historic decision,the kind of responses that came from Left leaders highlighted their sorry plight. One senior leader of the CPM said: How can we not appreciate her stand? After all,she walked out of the UPA coalition on issues for which we are also fighting. May be the time has come when TMC and the communists may hit the streets,hand in hand,on a common agenda. No wonder Didis party has acquired,in certain quarters,the sobriquet of Trinamool Congress (Marxist). Smaller Left Front partners the CPI,RSP,FB publicly feel it is time they re-evaluated the TMC.
In pulling out of UPA 2,Mamata Banerjee has reiterated her partys commitment to its poll manifesto. But within the TMC,there is a growing sentiment that provisions in the manifesto are more suited to a party in opposition than one in government. In fact,a large number of issues found in the manifesto have virtually checkmated the Bengal government and prevented it from taking initiatives in many sectors. The existing land acquisition policy,for instance,has been a major hurdle for industrial growth. Development projects in the infrastructure sector have also been stalled because of land acquisition bottlenecks. Financial aid from foreign funding agencies is also restricted as the TMC does not want user fees to be imposed. There has been a pressing demand from domestic industry to modify the Urban Land Ceiling Act,which puts a cap on land holdings in urban areas. Meanwhile,the rejection of special economic zones has come in the way of Infosys,for instance,pushing forward with its venture in Bengal,even though it had huge job-creating potential. Most of these problems have emanated from the contents of the TMCs manifesto. Many in the party share the view that the manifesto needs to be modified immediately but the top leadership sticks to what has been set down in black and white.
Finally,there can be little doubt about Mamata Banerjees sincerity and her concern for the well being of the poor,but sometimes this seems to be pushed beyond plausible limits. Her resistance to the hike in railway fares is a case in point. The indefinite public transport strike in Kolkata has caused severe hardship to thousands of commuters. A large section of the commuters are ready to absorb a reasonable hike in fuel prices,which will push up fares,but the government has put its foot down,which has encouraged transport operators to go on strike. Banerjees pro-poor agenda prompts her to reach out to the people,often without realising that she does not have the means to implement the policies she wants.
The writer is editor,Kolkata,The Indian Express