For 34 years West Bengal was governed by the Left Front whose chief minister, Jyoti Basu, was undoubtedly one of the most distinguished statesmen this country has ever produced. However, after such a long period in power the Left Front had developed an ennui and the fatigue factor was showing. In any case, in a democracy people do want a change from time to time and 34 years is a very long time to be in power. The Left Front had a strong presence in rural and urban Bengal and by direct interaction with the people and also by use of strong arm tactics during elections it was able to ensure electoral victories.
Wanting change is one thing but finding an agent for change is something else. Into this political landscape came the phenomenon of Mamata Banerjee, who formed a new party, the Trinamool Congress. She is a street fighter and used all the tactics of the CPI(M), including following the maxim of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Despite the fact that the coercive power of the state sided with the Left Front, she soon established an army of goons who could take on the CPI(M). The Trinamool Congress achieved success at the polls and Mamata became the chief minister. Normally power brings with it a certain responsibility and accountability that has a sobering influence. But then Mamata is significantly different from everyone else and though she was chief minister she generally behaved like the street fighter that she was. She is unpredictable, reluctant to accept responsibility, her normal reaction to any situation is to blame her opponents, she lacks foresight and her entire energy seems to be centred on destroying the CPI(M) in West Bengal. This works up to a point, but ultimately a government has to govern and not merely agitate. This means the structure of government has to be strengthened and officials given clear-cut directions based on its policies. Public agitation is in direct contradiction of governance. That is why when the Left Front came to power, land reforms were central to its ideology. One reason why the Left Front had such a long run is that land reforms aroused hope in rural Bengal of better days. By contrast Mamata’s first act on taking power was to scuttle the Tata Motors plan of manufacturing the Nano car in West Bengal and the Tatas were driven out in despair. This has had an adverse effect on industrialists wanting to invest in the state and, therefore, the economy is moribund.
One of the major policy issues in our foreign relations is the need to have a friendly government in Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina has taken several steps to ensure that religious fanaticism does not take over the country and she is desirous of friendly relations with India. Manmohan Singh, as prime minister, visited Bangladesh and there was hope that amongst other things he would finalise the treaty on the sharing of the waters of Teesta River. Foreign affairs are clearly the responsibility of the Union government, but Mamata through her tantrums and her intimidatory tactics successfully scuttled the treaty. That is the time when Manmohan Singh should have put her down with a firm hand, but the UPA was a weak government.
In a shameless display of vote bank politics, Mamata has encouraged Islamic extremism in her state, with the police being told to turn a blind eye to all evidence of terrorism. In Burdwan, there were bomb blasts and the Intelligence Bureau gave a clear-cut warning that extremist groups from Bangladesh were making West Bengal their base for carrying out acts of terrorism in Bangladesh to topple Sheikh Hasina’s government. The Centre had to intervene forcefully, the investigation was transferred to the National Investigating Agency (NIA) and ample proof was found against the terrorist groups. The West Bengal Police did not cooperate till the national security adviser, Ajit Doval, was sent to place the facts before the West Bengal chief minister and request the state government’s cooperation. Mamata complied half-heatedly. Meanwhile, the Saradha chit fund scam had exploded as one of the worst cases of financial fraud in the history of India. Because the fraud had interstate ramifications, the CBI was given the investigation and one by one the skeletons are tumbling of the cupboard. The chief accused is a Trinamool Congress leader supposedly very close to Mamata at one time. The latest person to be arrested is a Rajya Sabha member from the Trinamool Congress. There is considerable panic in the ruling power clique in West Bengal.
The fraud affects over 18 lakh citizens spread over the eastern states and the amount runs into thousands of crores of rupees. A chief minister with nothing to hide would have ordered the police to not only cooperate with the CBI but to actively investigate the matter so that all the guilty persons are brought to account. Instead she has taken to the streets, stating that this is a conspiracy by the RSS, the BJP, Narendra Modi and the CBI to defame her and her party. She calls Doval an RSS sympathiser who has fabricated the Burdwan blast case. She has said her party would not cooperate in Parliament in any legislation proposed by the Centre and she’d agitate before Parliament for withdrawal of all cases relating to the Saradha scam and the Burdwan bomb blasts. In other words, when you have no defence to offer attack the enemy personally.
What she seems to have forgotten is that the Centre is not ruled by the UPA, Manmohan is no longer the prime minister and that Narendra Modi is hardly the type of person who would crumble under her onslaught. However, all her acts seem to strengthen the suspicion that she has something to hide and is using undesirable political tactics to help her hide the truth.
Located in the lap of the Ganga Bengal enjoys unparalleled soil fertility. At one time Calcutta was India’s industrial capital. The downslide began when the RBI was transferred to Bombay by the British. Nevertheless, West Bengal certainly doesn’t deserve a chief minister whose will to govern seems to be almost negative, who lives in a constant state of agitation and whose tenure will probably be marked as one of total failure. This is the time for West Bengal to wake up and once again become the leading state in India.