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Tathagata Bhattacharya
Tuesday , January 15, 2013 at 17 : 13

What we are not likely to achieve at Bengal Leads: a response to Trinamool MP Derek O'Brien's post


Being termed as West Bengal's Gujarat Summit, which wrapped up after a successful show on Saturday last week, the Trinamool government's 'Bengal Leads' conclave has begun at the industrial town of Haldia on Tuesday. Though serious doubts have been cast over the efficacy of the meet in light of the West Bengal government's hands-off land acquisition policy, rising violence in the state and an apparent breakdown of law and order, Trinamool Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha Derek O'Brien has cast away all such aspersions in a blogpost.

"What will we achieve at Bengal Leads? Will tycoons fly in and out in their private jets? Will 100 countries be represented? Will there be photo-ops with one billionaire after another? No. In that sense, those complaining and groaning about Bengal Leads vis-a-vis Vibrant Gujarat are right. Point conceded, my friends, argument over. You are welcome to relegate us to second place in a race we aren't even running," O'Brien writes.

He is drawn into comparing the different political histories of the two states when he says, "I'd like to make one submission though: the legacy Vibrant Gujarat 2013 can build on and the legacy Bengal Leads 2013 is saddled with are extremely different. Give Gujarat - or Maharashtra or Tamil Nadu for that matter - 34 years of Communist rule and see where things stand."

Fair enough till now but then onwards, the Trinamool MP's assertions seem to lose the plot.

He writes: "The Mamata Banerjee government has been in office for 18 months, in the first lap of a long, long marathon. Yet, it is important to understand and appreciate that renewal has begun. As a political party, we are not ideologically blinkered. As a government, we fully understand and welcome the role of private capital and businessmen in making investments, setting up factories and industrial facilities and ushering in employment and growth."

People of West Bengal and observers of the state's socio-economic-political journey would sincerely beg to differ. While there has been little to show for 'the renewal', the state's chief minister has gone on record to say that "90 per cent of the work has been completed". Now, if the beginning of 'renewal' tantamounts to '90 per cent' work, if not a single major investment in the state ever since the new government came to power can be construed as either 'a renewal' or as a mark of '90 per cent' achievement, then the likely takeouts from the Haldia meet are not that hard to guess.

And, as a government, even the Left Front government was awake to the importance of 'the role of private capital and businessmen in making investments, setting up factories and industrial facilities and ushering in employment and growth' as long as it served their political purpose. The Salt Lake Sector V and the Rajarhat IT complexes, the very industrial township of Haldia are pointers to the fact. This, therefore, is in no way a defining realisation. However, one wishes that driving away bulk cargo handlers ABG LDA from Haldia dockyards was a wake-up call for the Trinamool Congress.

Derek O'Brien continues: "How have things changed in these past 18 months? For a start, there is greater social stability in the state, and simply much less violence."

This claim is ridiculous; West Bengal contributed the second-highest number to the national tally of rapes out of all states. Political violence is the order of the day; on a given day, there are three to four clashes between Trinamool and CPI(M), between Trinamool and Congress, between factions of Trinamool. Opposition legislators have been attacked and beaten both inside and outside the Assembly. The state is plagued by "political goondaism", to borrow the words of its usually reticent Governor. A government of just 18 months, which had come to power riding the wave in the aftermath of the Nandigram and Singur firings, has seen its police opening fire on people on multiple occasions.

Now, what kind of blinkers does the Trinamool leaders wear? One wonders if even the strongest ideological moorings can turn people so blind to the obvious.

Derek O'Brien may feel that the Mamata Banerjee government has sealed the fate of the Maoists to the west and has solved the Gorkhaland autonomy quagmire to the north. But it is not an entirely convincing argument. While the Maoists have been on the backfoot ever since the killing of their leader, Kishenji, last week's incidents in Jharkhand, just across the border, prove that they are regrouping.

The Gorkhaland Hills have been turbulent and, now, the residents of Dooars and Terai have entered the fray too. Forget solution, the problem just got bigger.

In such a backdrop, it is a bit difficult even for the most ardent well-wisher of the state to be optimistic about the possible fallouts of the Bengal Leads summit. One is given to understand that around 1,500 delegates from all over the world are expected to participate in the meet and around 210 stalls have been set up for the event.

However, speculations abound that the event may fail to attract even a single top-notch industrialist from the country. Despite claims by state industries minister Partha Chatterjee that the summit has some surprises in store, the schedule seems to suggest that the state has managed to rope in board-level executives of only two listed companies to speak at the event. Moreover, the government is yet to find any speaker at all from the industry for the final session on environment issues.

Derek O'Brien writes: "They will absorb the news and take their own call. Some will invest immediately, others will bide their time. That is fair enough, but at least they will take a business call..."

One hopes it happens, Derek - that they take the call to put in their money in the state. The heart wants investments for the state, jobs for the unemployed millions. It wants the once-famous cosmopolitanism of Calcutta to return to the decaying megapolis it has become. But then, if one could reason with logic, then pigs would fly.


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More about Tathagata Bhattacharya

Tathagata Bhattacharya is Editor, Special Editions, at Network 18. Having worked for well over 10 years with leading national and international media organisations, he is as enthused by newsbreaks and analyses as he is by single malts, Jazz and military aviation. You may come across this man listening to John Coltrane or reading Yasar Kemal on some obscure Himalayan tract though work pressure reduces the statistical probability of such a chance encounter.