Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why Mamta must win WB and liberate it.....

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 India? 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 US. The Left fails to acknowledge that their core support group.....be it the erstwhile USSR or China.....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.

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 Bombay. 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 Delhi 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.

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 India 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 Delhi or Bombay or Bangalore for work. He/She’s happy to go anywhere.....as long as it is out of Kolkata!

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....


  1. Firstly, the growth figures that you are mentioning are year on year and not absolute. Secondly, the GDP that you mention is because of the registered companies originally in Bengal but not necessarily producing in Bengal like Tata Group and Birla grop companies. Thridly, the land reforms that you mention has done nothing but made the poor lanless labours hold on to that gift so vehemently that they forgot to work on it, or even think beyond it.

    Communism thrives on poverty and that's what Left succeeded in doing it for 3 decades. It is only now that the Bengalis see the development, advancement and opportunities outside Bengal that they want that "Change". Even Bihar probably looks better than Bengal today.

    Lastly, nowehere in the world has communism been defeated with a Gentle approach or so called democratic process. It requiies a revolution, a mass uprising and going strong against the establishment. This is what Mamta did in the garb of all democratic norms. Hopefully she will turn from a Street Smart Politician to a Stateswoman when given the power.,,repeat ...Hopefully.

    Bengal has lost generations of fantastic minds and investment to other states and countries. It can only return to glory when these minds come back with opportunities to result in employment, capital investment, and economic growth. Let's pray for this!

  2. Bengal will get onto the fast track of development, but it would not happen with Mamata at the helm. Communists are not losing the 2011 Assembly Election to TMC+Congress combine and the promises which they are making. Communists are losing the battle because of the faltered notion of "Spread of Mediocrity" which was the brainchild of Lt Anil Biswas and which got the backing of the omnipotent Lt Jyoti Basu. Although, Shri Buddhadeb Bhattacharya tried very hard to come clear of the wrong party line, it was too late.

    Mamata has never been and would never become a CONSTRUCTOR. She is and would remain a DESTRUCTOR. Her only quality is that she is a die hard ANTI-CPM and that's ALL. On 13th of May, she would achieve her life's only target. She will be the next CM. But the journey ends there. Unfortunately her party does not have a second line of defence, its an one man (sorry woman) army. Left has to come back to power, of course purified, and take Bengal to where she should be.

  3. @Manab Nag - Everyone is concerned about what Mamta can do....I do tend to agree with your view that she's so far only been a destructor. She will be fully tested once she becomes CM. If she fails, it will be the most obvious outcome. If she succeeds, she will be a difficult opponent to dislodge. Let's see what she does

  4. Kolkata's Metro has actually added about 9 kms last year. The train runs from Dum Dum to Garia now. Part of the delay in commissioning the new line had to do with the age old problem of land and litigation. The EW Metro construction is going on reasonably fast (The overground section) but the underground stretch could be a problem again. Kolkata's suburban network is far more extensive than Mumbai's (check maps) and all it needs is modern metro like EMUs. But we cannot think out of the box so thousands of crores are going to be spent building many kms of new Metro tracks (in many cases parallel to existing suburban tracks). What a proposed waste of money.

    Check out some Kolkata photos