When Mamata Banerjee came to power in 2011,she signalled hope after 34 years of Left rule. But two years on,after a string of bad decisions and unfulfilled promises,the Mamata magic seems to be fading
Two years ago,thousands lined up along the road leading from Raj Bhavan in Kolkata to Writers Building to cheer a leader who had vowed to change Bengal. That imageof a diminutive woman in a crinkled sari and slippers,hair in a dishevelled bun,walking down to take over as the Chief Minister of West Bengalhad inspired a surge of hope and expectation not seen for a long time in the state. That was on May 20,days after Mamata and her Trinamool Congress came to power after 34 years of Left rule.
Two years on,that spirit of celebration seems to have evaporated. Though the weight of expectations can be overbearing,no one had expected the government to face disasters one after the other in such a short spanthe latest being the chit fund scam that affected thousands of investors.
A year after she took over,Mamata had rated herself 100 out of 100. Her critics had then dismissed this as the language of hyperbole that she was known to speak in. As the young government approaches its second anniversary,the war cry with which Mamata came to powerMaa,Maati,Manush (Mother,Motherland,People)is now a whimper and almost every other dream and promise
Nandigram roils again
Mamata had fondly named Nandigram in East Midnapore district the Land of Freedom. This was her battlegroundher supporters said it was her Tiananmen Squarein her fight against the formidable Communists. Fourteen villagers were killed in police firing in March 2007 during protests against the Left Front governments proposed acquisition of 10,000 acres for a chemical hub to be built by the Salim Group of Indonesia.
The movement against land acquisition,led by the Bhoomi Ucched Protirodh Committee,an umbrella organisation of over 12 political outfits and NGOs,was just the platform she needed from where she could take on the Left government. But even after two years of the Trinamool government,very little has changed on the ground in Nandigram.
Not a single police officer responsible for the Nandigram firing has been punished. While the Trinamool has been accusing the CBI of going slow in the case,the CBI says the government hasnt given its sanction to prosecute four police officers who have been named in the CBI chargesheet.
Besides the investigation into the firing,Nandigram represents a long list of broken promises. When she was railway minister,Mamata had announced the Nandigram-Deshapran rail link. But with her exit from the ministry,the project lost steam. Besides,land acquisition was never going to be easy. She had also promised jobsto those people who had given 190 acres of their land for the railway project,to relatives of victims of the Nandigram police firingbut these remain unfulfilled. Other projects are stucka proposed factory in Jellignhum,an industrial park and an international market.
Senior Trinamool leaders claim that around 400 farmers were given jobs when the Railway Ministry was with the party. Now the others are waiting for similar relief.
Sishir Adhikari of the Trinamool Congress admits,People in Nandigram are waiting for better days. A section of them is certainly not happy with the promises not met.
Every week,65-year-old Gopal Ghosh queues up outside the PDS shop in his village in Singur for his quota of rice at Rs 2 a kg. He is one of the beneficiaries of a relief scheme for 2,200 families of Singur. The scheme was introduced by the state government six months ago following deep resentment over the governments failure to resolve the land dispute with the Tatas.
Ghosh,once a wealthy farmer,had 12 bighas of land which he had to unwillingly part with for the Tata Nano project during the Left Front government. Now,after the Trinamool-led agitation against the plant,the Tatas have gone and so has the land,now caught in a web of legal tangles. Now I feel like a beggar, says Ghosh. His son Anirban is a daily labourer.
A government estimate says there are 2,200 farmers in Singur who unwillingly parted with their land for the Singur project. But the Save Agricultural Land Committee claims the number would be close to 10,000.
Arunava Ghosh,a lawyer in the Calcutta High Court who has followed the Singur case closely,says,Mamata Banerjee is responsible for this situation. It was a wrong move to take possession of the Tata land forcibly and terminate the lease agreement. That shut the possibility of the Tatas ever returning. And people in Singur now live on doles.
Though they wont admit it on record,every Trinamool leader knows the Singur situation is embarrassing for the party. They realise that Mamata should have first amicably resolved the issue with the Tatas before using the administration to take control of the land. There are now two cases on the Singur issue pending before the Supreme Court.
Leaders of the Committee for Protection of Farmers and Land fear that even if the court battle is resolved,returning land to unwilling farmers will lead to more complications. The farmers who had willingly given their land to the Tata project will also want their land back as the factory has been abandoned.
Law and disorder
When the Trinamool Congress came to power,she had promised a new beginning,a break from the lawlessness and misdeeds of the previous Left Front governments. But even if Mamata tried hard to live up to the expectations,events that unfolded with dismal regularity exposed her closest party colleagues. The latest is the arrest of Sambhunath Kow,a TMC councillor and a prime accused in the March 20 violence in Topsia that led to the death of a party supporter. In January,former TMC MLA Arabul Islam was arrested for assaulting CPM leader Abdur Rezzak Mollah in Bhangar area of South 24 Parganas district and instigating his men to set fire to dozens of public vehicles.
Law and order has been dismal too. There have been incidents that have put the government to shamethe death of student leader Sudipto Gupta and the vandalism of the historic Baker Laboratory at Presidency University by men who carried Trinamool Congress
Chhatra Parishad flags.
The Presidency University incident triggered deep self-introspection from Mamata,who delivered a message through her MP Derek OBrien: In the last two years,our government has set hundreds of examples of development in Bengal. We may have made two or three mistakes,but we will learn from our mistakes in the New Year. Mamata watchers were pleasantly surprised. If one were to ask what has changed in Bengal in the past two years,this was perhaps itthe fact that Mamata had admitted to having made mistakes. Mamata,however,did not elaborate on what these two or three mistakes were.
It was on Bengali New Years day,April 15,that the states biggest financial scamthe chit fund scandalsurfaced. Tens of thousands of small investors had their money wiped out. Growing evidence points to how the companies mushroomed and flourished under the patronage of CPM and Trinamool leaders.
There was hope that the long years of recession under the Left Front would come to an end with the installation of a new government led by Mamata. But two years on,there is no breakthrough in sight for the states industrial revival or economic stability. West Bengal continues to be in pause mode.
Mamata says she has had to bear the cross of fiscal anarchism and profligacy of the CPM and its associates. The tragedy is how,despite a record internal revenue mobilisation of Rs 31,000 crore by the two-year Trinamool Congress government (up from Rs 20,000 crore of the last Left government),Rs 25,000 crore exits the states treasury for debt repayment liability (debt of over Rs 200,000 crore) thrust upon this government by the Left Front, Amit Mitra,the state Finance Minister,said in his Budget speech. While that argument has its merits,Mamatas critics say her government has shown conflicting priorities of financial restraint and bad expenseswith crores spent on utsavs,musical and cultural extravaganzas.
Just when the going was bad,JSW Steel put on hold its Rs 35,000-crore,10 million tpa steel plant in Salboni after it failed to secure long-term iron ore supplies. Similarly,Infosyss Rajerhat venture that would have given jobs to 16,500 IT professionals has been on hold as the West Bengal government is not willing to give it an SEZ status.
Asked what makes business in Bengal difficult,Rajiv Singh of the Indian Chamber of Commerce said,It is the attitude. Why should an investor wait for lengthy business conclaves and interactive sessions with the government to make headway? The simple method for an investor should be to be able to approach the government anytime directly and get things done, says Singh.
During her initial months in office,Mamata would set off from her 30B Harish Chatterjee Street home,reach office early and work well into the night. She was known to pay surprise visits to hospitals,government offices and even check on the traffic volume at street crossings. But in recent months,her attendance at Writers Building has dwindled. Those who have worked with her say the change in her work cycle is deliberate.
Didi spends more time now travelling to the districts,monitoring the progress of various projects and connecting with the people, says a Mamata aide. Her popularity and charisma remain unchanged in the rural belts. The last three bypolls showed a further dip of 11 per cent in the vote share of the Left while the Trinamool gained between 1 and 2 per cent.
But party insiders admit her popularity may have dipped in urban areas,particularly because of the authoritarian streak she displayed in a number of casesthe arrest of a professor for forwarding a cartoon on her,branding a Junglemahal youth a Maoist for raising the issue of fertiliser prices,calling the Park Street rape a fabricated story and many more.
That she is prone to making temperamental decisions doesnt help. Soon after she took over,she introduced a blue-and-white colour scheme for Kolkata. Government buildings,bridges and monuments get a periodic coat of blue and white to keep her happy. Among their other duties,the Kolkata police have to ensure that Rabindra Sangeet is played at street crossings,particularly along the route Mamata takes.
She is known to be impulsive,frequently transferring senior officials. Her recent decision to transfer Kolkata Police Commissioner R K Pachanda came in for much criticism. Many of the bureaucrats suffer from a lack of confidence in dealing with her, said a secretary of the government.
Mamata describes the criticism directed at her as mindless,needless opposition to the new governments initiatives. On the eve of her two years in office,aware of the rising voices of dissent,she promised: We always take criticism in the right spirit because unlike many of our critics,we truly believe in democracy and will never shy away from taking corrective measures. Bengal is waiting.
WHAT SHE GOT RIGHT
Bandhs and hartals: Government records show how Mamatas blanket ban on bandhs have helped the state. Between 2007-2010,the average annual number of working days lost in Bengal was 76.4 lakh man days. This year,that number has reduced to 5,202 days.
Focus on rural belts: If Mamata continues to hold out,it is largely because of her hold in rural Bengal. While urban expectations of her have dimmed,she continues to travel to the districts,holding meetings and meeting people. I am here to take care of the CPM harmads. I am there to stay awake through the night to see you sleep in peace, she says in public
Peace in the hills: She brokered peace in the turbulent Darjeeling hills with Bimal Gurung and his men,putting in place a democratically elected body in August 2012.
Clampdown on Naxals: Naxal hotbed of Junglemahal saw 149 deaths in 343 Maoist attacks towards the end of the Left Front regime in 2009. But after the Trinamool took over,the killings came down to 13 in 32 attacks in 2011 and no deaths in 2012.
REPORT CARD AT TWO: HOW THE OTHERS FARED
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee (2000-2011)
Bhattacharjee announced the only way to honour the mandate given to the Left Front,which won 235 out of 294 seats,was to offer a better Left,an improved Left. The government identified rapid industrialisation as its thrust area.
BUT could not offer a better Left. His rapid industrialisation drive didnt win him support within his own party.
Jyoti Basu (1977-2000)
In 1978,the government brought in a series of land reforms,empowered sharecroppers and strengthened panchayats. It is believed that these measures helped the Left Front rule for over three decades in Bengal.
BUT the massacre of 1979,when the government forcibly ejected refugees from east Pakistan who had settled in Marichjhanpi island in the Sunderbans,was a dark patch.
Siddhartha Shankar Ray (1972-77)
Besides the crackdown on the Naxalite movement,he rehabilitated millions of refugees who had arrived from Bangladesh. Improved irrigation and got farmers to switch over to a three-crop cycle.
BUT Ray was believed to have provided the blueprint and the draft for promulgation of Emergency to Indira Gandhi in 1975. Many arrests were made in Bengal during the Emergency.