When the Left Front was ousted from power in West Bengal last year, cries of poribortan (change) rent the air. The people of the state—both in rural and urban areas—were concerned about their future. The state hardly attracted any investment; job-led growth, if there was any, could hardly keep pace with what was needed. When investors finally looked favourably, the draconian means by which these investments were to be made productive—seizing of land and downright repressive means to secure it—ensured the Left’s exit.
Today, a year later, Mamata Banerjee is unable to give meaning to the expression poribortan. Her political choices have ruled out industrialization in the state. Her populist outlook makes it impossible to bring the state’s finances back on the rails. Finally, her abrasive political behaviour has left her with few friends in the Union government. For survival, the Manmohan Singh government tolerates her but does not yield to what she really wants: a financial bailout package for her government.
West Bengal’s electoral calendar is packed all the way till 2016. From local elections to the general election and finally the state assembly elections in 2016, Banerjee’s anxiety is palpable. The results are quite predictable. On the one hand, she does not have a coherent strategy by which she can revive West Bengal’s sagging economic fortunes and then showcase her achievements on the eve of the 2016 polls. On the other hand, with restricted room for manoeuvring, she has to rely on populist politics to try and keep herself on high political ground. Opposition to increases in fuel prices, railway passenger fares and even sharing of Teesta river waters with Bangladesh (which, legally and constitutionally, is none of her business) are her way of showing her “relevance”.
This is a low-level political playing field where jostling between rivals is intense. The Left parties, with their better articulated programmatic ideals —however ruinous they may be in practice—are able to deliver her a punch or two every now and then. It will be much better for her, and for her electoral fortunes, if she concentrates on giving West Bengal a good government instead of a chimerical chase for power.
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