On Wednesday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is set to reach a landmark, a “century”. She will hold her government’s 100th “administrative meeting” outside of Writers’ Buildings and the new State Secretariat at Nabanna.
Over the past fortnight, the entire government machinery has been geared up to showcase this event, being held in Burdwan, as a measure of her success and a model for good governance; she claims to have taken the administration to the remotest corners of the state.
The CMO is busy preparing to take media teams from Kolkata as well as from outside, including some foreign ones, dignitaries of foreign consulate, bureaucrats, elected representatives, actors and other celebrities to the 100th meeting.
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The level of publicity has earned ridicule from the opposition, particularly because she uses these events as a platform to announce sops. Her latest target is to distribute four million bicycles to the needy, both boys and girls. The chief minister narrated how she enhanced the target when she encountered a young village boy who asked her why she was giving bicycles only to rural girls. There are other sops such as scholarships, caste certificates, land pattas, Kisan Credit Cards, drinking water schemes, irrigation schemes, and agricultural inputs. Almost all such meetings end with a public rally with the CM announcing her schemes.
Said Md Selim, CPM politburo member and MP, “With nothing concrete to show, Mamata has only celebrations, celebrities and promises to showcase for the 2016 elections. She has turned into a superb event manager with free flow of government funds. She is crying hoarse that there is no money in the treasury but is wasting huge funds on these meetings.”
Siddharth Nath Singh, BJP national spokesperson, said Mamata has sensed that the 2016 polls will be fought on performance, something he says she has failed to achieve. “She has failed as a politician and it’s been a failure of the administration to deliver. That is why she is so keen to hold these meetings and hype these up as a measure of success. It has come too late in the day after four wasted years,” Singh said.
Said Adhir Chowdhury, state Congress president and MP, “When you have nothing to showcase — no industry, no jobs, no development in infrastructure — you have dramas, cultural shows and drum beating, that too with government money. Modi and Didi are on the same wavelength, singing their own songs.”
Manish Gupta, Mamata’s Power Minister and a former chief secretary who had served under Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee before defeating Buddhadeb in Jadavpur in 2011, says the meetings have “revolutionised the administration”.
“These are ones where the hierarchy vanishes and the CM holds a public accountability assessment,” Gupta said. “It has resulted in better delivery of services and speedy implementation of projects. There is another aspect to it,” Gupta added. “The chief minister brings various departments together for coordination and ensures a holistic approach to implementation of projects. It is a hope for the future.”
Mamata, for her part, has termed all such meetings over the past four years as “CM-to-DM-meetings”, in which the Chief Minister’s Office “moves” to the district magistrates to take stock of the progress of various government schemes, listen to people’s grievances and initiate action.
The meetings have included 40-plus visits to the Darjeeling hills and 25-plus in Junglemahal. “Both the hills and Junglemahal, two conflict zones, are now smiling,” she has said.
“Through these meetings I am perpetually in touch with the people.”