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The Reality of Bengal under Mamata: Politics First, People Later

Mamata Banerjee Bengal development

Mamata Banerjee has been at the political helm of West Bengal since 2011. While she has tom-tommed her state’s development accomplishments in these years, the reality is far different and rather stark.

The Extortionist ‘Syndicate’ Rule

The widely-spoken of and the notorious syndicate tax perhaps defines Mamata government most aptly. For every project, whether in infrastructure, or services or even government-led projects, the long hand of the invisible syndicate has always extracted its pound of flesh. This has deterred both resident as well as outside investments despite the much-publicised ‘global’ investment summits that the state has hosted over the years. The much talked of scams such as Saradha, Rose Valley, among many others allegedly orchestrated by the top leadership of Mamata’s party have not only disrupted the development process but also taken away lifetime savings of common Bengalis. We have seen recently how Mamata tried to protect a senior police officer when the CBI had gone to question him.

The Body Blow to Cooperative Federalism

In Dec 2018, when Mamata Banerjee instructed state govt officials not to share data with the Central government, this is a direct assault on the principle of cooperative federalism. After all, what danger could possibly stem from Central government collecting data on state? Then who can forget when Mamata had dramatically accused the army of attempting a ‘coup’ in Dec 2016 when their troopers were merely collecting routine data at toll plazas.

The Political Culture of Violence

The legacy of left’s violent political culture in the state has not only persisted but only got worse. In fact, Banerjee rose to power leading the violent protest against land acquisition by Left government in Singur and Nandigram. Last year, no less than the Calcutta High Court had to step in when it decided to suspend the panchayat poll process in West Bengal. This was a big setback to Mamata government proving that the government had not been able to carry out even a routine administrative task such as the peaceful conduct of an election process. The level of violence in Panchayat polls was so high that 34 per seats went uncontested. Some 20,000 seats in the panchayat polls had gone uncontested in favour of the ruling party. Soon after budget, PM Modi had to himself tick off Mamata for continuing violence in West Bengal.

Worsening Public Finances – State Continues to Reel under Debt

Mamata Banerjee through her populist measures has further crippled an already stretched public finances of the state with the eventual motive of securing votes for short-term political gains, and without offering a long-term structural programme for the state economy. West Bengal has consistently had the high outstanding debt over the period FY 2000-01 to 2017-18. In fact, the rate of decline in the state’s debt-GDP ratio between 2011 and 2016 was almost equivalent to the previous five years of Left Front rule.

Moreover, the state’s ratio of development expenditure to Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) and Capital Outlay to GSDP has been one of the lowest amongst the General Category States as published by the PIB. The inability to shore up revenues and the inclination to overspend on revenue expenditure has restricted capital expenditure in the state.

The Continuing Decline of Industry

On the back of already-struggling traditional industries such as jute industry, by 2013-end, within only two years of Mamata’s ascendance to power, there was 97% decline in industries if figures are taken from 2010. The trend continued and in next few years, two major factories, Dunlop India’s Sahaganj plant and Hindustan Motors’ Uttarpara plant had to be shut down. Therefore, industry’s contribution to the state’s income and employment has only been in a constant downward spiral.

Investments: Mismatch Between Commitment and Actuals

Banerjee’s wooing of big industry has not yielded much returns. For all the hype surrounding the 2018 Bengal Business Summit, the total investment promised amounted to less than the commitments made in the years 2017 and 2016 . Moreover, much of this is purely estimates and not real.

Slow Modernisation of Economy

Typically, as an economy evolves and turns modern, the share of agriculture to the overall production and income goes down. West Bengal on the other hand has agriculture’s contribution as 21.54% against an all India average of 15.40 percent.

A Chunk of Population Still Below Poverty Line (BPL)

While Mamata keeps talking of poor, that 19.98% of the total population is still below the Poverty line exposes the State’s commitment towards Goals SDG 1. Having the second highest population density after Bihar, this really poses a worrisome picture.

Deteriorating Public Sanitation

As per “Swachh Survekshan 2018” conducted by Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs, GOI, West Bengal is home to 18 of the 25 dirtiest cities in the country.

Politics First, People Later

When Mamata Banerjee announced the withdrawal of West Bengal from the Ayushman Bharat, a widely-appreciated health programme for the poor, this was again a demonstration of how Mamata for her political sake can sacrifice common people’s interests.

Therefore it is fairly clear that Mamata’s pariborton is no more than a slogan raised to serve her political objectives. Whatever little public sympathy that she may have aroused after the overthrow of the Left government, she reprising the same politico-cultural model in the state would have lost all that goodwill.