Today’s newspapers carry exit poll findings which indicate by and large that Mamta will sweep the WB polls this time around. Why is this so important for WB and
? Like all capitalists, I loathe the Left. I blame them for the tardy progress made on the economic front. For being opposed to the Indo-US nuclear policy, not because of the pros and cons of the deal itself, but because of their visceral hatred of the India . The Left fails to acknowledge that their core support group.....be it the erstwhile US USSR or .....has deserted communism. And yet the Left continues to stick its head in the sand and refuses to see the reality of the situation today. China
But economic logic is not why Mamta must overthrow the Left. Actually, when I did a little research for this piece, I realized that my understanding of how WB is doing economically was wrong. I used to think of WB as a laggard state but I was surprised to learn that WB is still the 6th biggest state in terms of the size of its economy. Its behind only Maharashtra, UP, Andhra,
Gujarat and TN. Of course, it may have been in the top 2 states at the time of independence and it has declined since then. When I looked at GDP growth rates over the last 15-20 years, I was again surprised. Between 1994-95 and 2009-10 (15 years), WB has grown at 6.7% per annum compared to the much tom-tommed Gujarat which grew at 8.5% per annum. That’s not so bad! In fact, in 2009, its GDP growth rate was 14%....ahead of Gujarat’s 11.7% and at the same level as Maharashtra’s 14%. In terms of poverty alleviation also, its fared decently. About 34% of its pop is below the poverty line.....worse than Gujarat and the South states, but better than even Maharashtra. So my grouse against the Left government was wrong. Economically, WB has done reasonably well....though not as well as it could have.
My impressions of WB are formed largely by visits to Kolkata. This marvellous city of yore has clearly lost the plot. When I see the hordes of yellow ambassador cars, I am immediately pushed back into the 1970s when this car ruled the country. Kolkata has a rich marwari community, but in terms of its willingness to spend, Kolkata is way behind. Research done by my company in Kolkata indicates that the Bong likes the continuity with the past.....but I feel that they have taken this too far. They seem to have stuck themselves to the past! In terms of infrastructure, Kolkata sucks. Even more than
. At least in Bombay now, they are talking of spending huge sums of money. Rs 35000 crores is being spent on just the transportation system over the next 5-7 years. In Kolkata, there are no such grandiose plans. The metro train which was the country’s pride two decades back hasn’t grown one inch since then. In the meantime, the Bombay metro has grown to a size of nearly 200 kms with more plans on the anvil. My visits to Kolkata indicated that it was a city in decline. And I directly blamed the Left government for it. Delhi
The impression of economic decline in WB (which was wrong) that I carried was partly true though. Industrial growth has stagnated in WB. While the number of industries grew by nearly 50% in the rest of
in the last several years, in WB that number remained static. Industrial problems in Kolkata are well known. I remember this from my days in Revlon....when we used to go to a specific printer in Kolkata for our “shade cards”. They were experts in this specific job and all paints and cosmetics companies used to go to them for their work. However, the management would explain to me in anger that the labor laws of Kolkata are so crappy that even if a worker had to be assigned from one machine to another (same type of machine), his permission had to be sought! Kolkata has suffered enormously because a city lives of industrial growth; not agricultural growth. One of the other tell tale signs of decline of Kolkata is that it is so easy to hire brilliant managers from Kolkata for jobs anywhere else in the country. A Kolkatan doesn’t insist on going only to India Delhi or Bombay or for work. He/She’s happy to go anywhere.....as long as it is out of Kolkata! Bangalore
The Left ignored Kolkata almost as a planned strategy. To show to the world that they were pro-poor and pro-rural folks. This worked for the last three decades. The Left did indeed do some revolutionary work in the rural areas.....largely in the area of land reforms. Landless laborers were given land rights; the zamindars were cut to size. This entrenched the Left in WB. People in the rural areas loved the Left’s policies and this gave sustenance to the party. However, over the last three decades, there has been a serious decline in the party’s fortunes.
It’s a well know story really. The Left got absolute power in the state. No one could dislodge them. The only opposition party – the Congress – had no strategy of its own. Absolute power always corrupts. The Left lost the plot. The leaders became feudal themselves. They became power centers. They raped the countryside like hungry wolves. They squeezed the poor in a worse manner than even the Brits had done. The spread of the Naxal movement in WB throughout the state was a direct result of underdevelopment and exploitation of the rural poor. They grabbed land without bothering to communicate with the farmers....they started taking them for granted. The battles at Nandigram and Singur were the tipping point. That’s when the Left really lost it. In spite of the departure of the Tata Nano plant (a decision most WB folks would consider unfortunate), the folks were willing to side with Mamta. They have just one agenda.....throw the Left out.
The real truth is that the people of WB want the Left out. I cannot say with certainty that they want Mamta for what she stands for. They want her only as an alternative to the Left. What Mamta does with this mandate she gets will remain to be seen. My own feeling is that she may squander it. In any case, her job is tough. People are expecting miracles from her.....its never easy to govern under the pressure of such expectations. If she fails, the Left will be back again.....chastised hopefully. If she does well, she would have truly liberated the people of WB. From the oppressive politics of the Left. From the oppression of the absolute power that the Left enjoyed for so long....