New Delhi: The bitter rivalry in West Bengal between the ruling Left Front, led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the main opposition, is likely to further retard development in the state.
A top CPM leader said “nothing is likely to happen in West Bengal” until the state assembly polls in 2011. Analysts don’t see the situation improving even after the polls as the level of agreement between the two parties is very low.
“It’s a zero-sum game with neither side willing to have consensus (even) on basic issues,” said Subrata Mukherjee, professor, department of political science, Delhi University.
If the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC and its ally, the Congress, win the assembly elections, the CPM will likely play an obstructionist role and the TMC may continue appeasing its cadres by compromising on industrial development, said Mukherjee.
The CPM and the TMC are blaming each other. “The Trinamool Congress is taking an obstructive stand against all the projects, some of which do not even involve large-scale land acquisition or displacement of people,” said CPM general secretary Prakash Karat.
“The government is not able to even put up power transmitting towers that require only a small portion of land,” said Nilotpal Basu, a CPM central committee member.
Among the pending projects in the state, according to Basu, are: widening of the National Highway 34 that connects the northern and southern parts of Kolkata; the Alia University campus in 24 South Parganas that requires 65 acres of land; and a thermal power plant in Katua.
The TMC, for its part, says the state government’s initiatives are being stalled because of public resentment against the Left Front’s policies.
The “Trinamool Congress is not opposing any development projects on its own,” said Saugata Ray, a TMC member of Parliament and minister of state for urban development. “Generally there is resistance from the farmers against the land acquisition methods.”
The Left Front’s land acquisition policy that had drawn criticism even from allies cost it heavily in the April-May Lok Sabha elections, state by-elections and some civic polls.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s initiatives to turn Kolkata into an industrial hub have been undermined by violence over land acquisition at Nandigram and Singur.
The first was to have been the site of a chemicals hub set up by Indonesia’s Salim Group and the second was to have been the site of Tata Motors Ltd’s Nano car plant.
The TMC, in the political wilderness at the time, found a fresh lease of life by spearheading a mass movement against the government.
This and similar other protests eventually helped the TMC win 19 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats in the state, which had been a Left bastion for at least three decades. Banerjee is now the railway minister.
West Bengal has been unable to hold on to several other projects.
In May, DLF Ltd, the country’s largest developer, exited a Rs33,000 crore township project at Dankuni in West Bengal’s Hooghly district.
In September, the state government scrapped an agreement with Vedic Realty Pvt. Ltd to jointly build an information technology park on the outskirts of Kolkata after farmers allegedly set fire to the firm’s Vedic Village resort over some related land deals.
Infosys Technologies Ltd and Wipro Ltd, the country’s second and third largest software companies, abandoned plans to set up facilities at a proposed information technology park after rows over land acquisition.
“The CPM government wanted to bring in quick industrialization thinking that it had land, labour and capital and its monopoly in power made them believe that it was easy,” said TMC’s Ray. “But naturally, there will be protests as the land does not belong to them and neither do they have capital.”
Ray said the TMC would support projects that are backed by a rehabilitation package and a comprehensive policy, though he believes the government should not “link land acquisition to development”.
The CPM says it would be impossible to pursue development without acquiring at least some agricultural land because of an unfavourable population density in the state.
West Bengal is the most densely populated state in India with 904 inhabitants per sq. km.
Chief minister Bhattacharjee remains optimistic. “We want development. There are some differences over it. We are trying to resolve them by evolving a consensus,” he said in New Delhi earlier this week.