When a party comes to power especially after dethroning a party that ruled for 34 years without a break, people harbor great expectations. This happened in the case of Bengal after Mamata Banerjee stormed Writers’ Building in 2011 riding the crest of huge popularity. It’s not surprising that people’s expectations reached sky high.
The Mamata Banerjee government claims that it has achieved a lot during its five-year tenure which its predecessor could have hardly imagined. Let us evaluate the Trinamool’s claim from an impartial perspective.
Ensuring that common men get basic things in their daily hardscrabble life through welfare schemes is Mamata Banerjee’s one and only strategy. In its election manifesto, the Trinamool claims that 90% of the population in the state enjoys government-sponsored services. It is true people have benefitted from the government projects like Kanyashri, Sabujsathi and Shikhyasri. And in Jangalmahal, the government has built pucca roads and people are entitled to rice at Rs 2 a kg. Many of the locals in Jangalmahal have also been given jobs as constable and home guards. The Centre of course had also provided funds for these jobs. Besides, there was an urgent need for ensuring safety in the Maoist areas.
Ensuring the minority community’s support has also been one of Mamata’s prime objectives. And to this end her government has spared no efforts in bringing the Muslims into OBC category. The previous Left Front government of course in the last stage of its tenure began the work of bringing the Muslims into the OBC fold. The Trinamool government claims 97% of the Muslims can now get benefits from this inclusion. Mamata has also taken particular interest in allocating funds for Muslim religious institutions and educational centers. She didn’t bother when people denounced her saying such move goes against the norms of secularism. It is also to be noted that communal peace in the state wasn’t in jeopardy over the past five years.
To stem the growth of Gorkha Jana Morcha, Mamata has formed separate development boards for Lepcha, Tamang, Sherpa, Bhutia etc. It’s not yet clear whether this will ensure long-lasting peace in the hills or will create separatist movements.
It is true that the finance department has brought about tax reforms and that helped the state exchequer. But, on the other hand, the expenditure of the state has increased so much that it is overburdened with debt (we may recall the Left already crippled the state with a huge amount of debt). Senseless expenditure (for example, giving doles to local clubs etc) has left the state overburdened with debt. And it’s been increasing every year. A number of government institutions have also been opened. Many universities, medical colleges, hospitals and polytechnic colleges have been set up. But in the absence of adequate funds and right infrastructure, these institutions can hardly run. In the realm of agriculture, the scenario is bleak. Even though the government has formed Kisahan Maandi, it couldn’t function properly because of funds crunch. This results in the rise of middlemen and merciless whole-sellers. Today’s debt-ridden farmers remind us of the days of the British raj. Neck deep in debt, farmers’ condition has never been so wretched and miserable since the Independence.
The Mamata Banerjee government claims ‘lofty achievements’ in the realm of industry. It’s pointless arguing over these ‘lofty’ claims. What we see today is actually the establishment of unorganized industry. Most of the people are eking out their living and surviving just on the edge of poverty level, slogging like hell, depending on whatever very little they have, bribing police men and bowing to extortionists. Most of these people in the unorganized sector are rickshawalas or auto drivers or they work as domestic help in urban or semi-urban areas; many of them are hawkers, run wayside tea shops or own rolls’ shop.
Such is the scenario of what is being trumpeted as ‘industry’ in Bengal. Most of the youth know it very well that all those lofty claims are just politicians’ gobbledygook in the name of development and therefore they have left the state looking for jobs elsewhere in the country.
(To be continued)
Translated from a Bengali article written by eminent sociologist Partha Chatterjee