These days leaders of BJP are in self congratulatory mode. The party rocked in all local body polls in Maharashtra and made their presence felt in the state of Odisha, where none other than Naveen Patnaik’s BJD was looked invincible. If the grape vine has really matured, there may be an attempt to create another regional outfit drawing leaders from BJP and Congress to present a viable regional alternative. However, till date this gossip is confined to drawing room discussions. So, really there is nothing that can make BJP worry.
However, apart from a guest appearance, Odisha has nothing to do with this column. Let us discuss a more volatile state i.e., West Bengal. There was a time when the slogan “What Bengal thinks today, India will think tomorrow” was extensively used. Whether it had to do with the division of the state or the long communist rule, now the state is anything but a lost cause, considering the dwindling intellectual potential of the state.
Why and how the left lost their prized possession that West Bengal was? And, why the left could not make a come back in Bengal, while they came to power in Kerala last year? The main reason for this is the long rule of the left in Bengal. True, when they came to power in the seventies, they implemented land reforms. Agriculture grew in the state at a rate above the national average during the Marxist rule. However, while in other states governments changed despite doing better things. Chandrababu Naidu, the first chief minister to contest elections on development and good governance plank, lost elections. So did SM Krishna and Ashok Gehlot. In Bengal, CPI(M) ruled long enough because, there was no opposition. In Kerala and Tripura, the left was not too strong and so these states have seen Congress governments also, on almost an alternate basis. But, the long rule in West Bengal made CPM made it forget how to fight elections when the opponent is stronger.
In one of the largest state supported operations, all government employees were unionised and made part of the party. Despite the Marxist government claims of one of the biggest budgets for education department, more than 80% of the funds were spent on paying salaries to teachers,while the infrastructure was neglected. Strikes were frequent, some of them government sponsored though it is not clear whether they sponsor strikes against their own decisions. But, strikes were always scheduled on Fridays or Mondays so that weekends were longer and people were happy to stay indoors. The generation of people who got benefited of the land reforms voted for the party, but unrest started when the next generation too wanted something for them. CPM sensed they cannot win elections based on land reforms done decades ago and recognised the necessity of the industry. Considering the doctrine of Marxism (as implemented in Bengal), this was a U-turn as the government was to seek land from farmers and Mamata Banerjee, who spent her entire life opposing the left had turned tables on them. And she won.
When Mamata Banerjee won the election for the first time, it was hardly surprising. The proletariat was against the people’s government and that election amounted almost to a – revolution, in communist terms. The way Mamata Banerjee cemented her position in the state; is a beautiful learning in itself. After winning elections, Mamata Banerjee exhibited a split personality, and presented the face of shrilling lady who shouts against anyone and everyone for any reason. But, it is a fact that leaders who exhibit such paranoia cannot sustain even one full term, forget winning a second term with improved margins.
Who doesn’t vote for Mamta’s TMC? A hard core CPM worker and a staunch Congess follower and an ardent supporter of BJP. Considering, that the presence of BJP is minimal in the state, responding to the challenges of BJP is wastage of resources for TMC. For TMC, the main and only opposition is CPM. Congress in Bengal is only a shade better than what it is in Tamilnadu. The intellectual brigade of CPM would never come to Mamata Banerjee, except for participating in official functions. It is the poor in rural and urban areas, who are the regular voters in the state. And then, there is the Muslim vote bank, perhaps the most used and abused one.
First, Mamata Banerjee attracted the muscle power of CPM. As they are simply type of legion who work for paymasters, they work for the government and not for the party that is in opposition.
This ensured the opposition is weakened, while TMC is strengthened. TMC’s brute power has increased so much that the original terror politicians of CPM now cry in pain and complain against TMC’s terror. This is almost a filmy revenge of paying in the same coins.
Next, she used the union government funds to the maximum possible extent. A study can be conducted on how a state government can use central funds effectively to provide jobs to the poor, if one wills so. Mamta withdrew funds from Centre and used them. She made use of many schemes to provide employment even to the urban poor. Whether it was painting the city of Kolkata in blue or green or cleaning or anything else, she employed many people and if I am to believe my colleague who visits Kolkata every other month, it is now a shade better than Mumbai. (I too don’t believe, but I know Mumbai is slowly losing its earlier sheen)
One good thing TMC did was to provide cycles to school going girls. Though this scheme was already in practice in many states like Tamilnadu, Bihar, UP and MP etc., Mamta ensured it is implemented in true spirit. The difference Mamata Banerjee really made was by providing a monthly stipend to all school going girls. This attacked the problems. Child marriages were prevented, and girls are studying now. Millions of girls have benefited from this scheme. Mamata’s team ensured increasing tax revenue, so that she could spend on these schemes. Last heard this stipend was supposed to increase from Rs. 500 to Rs. 750/-.
Coming to the vote bank politics, TMC started giving stipends to Imams (who lead prayers) and Muazzins (those who call for prayers). It is an honorarium of one thousand rupees. The government is targeting to provide this stipend to a minimum of 10,000 persons. More than the political leaders from the Muslim community, it is these Imams and Muazzins who are in constant touch with ordinary people and have much influence over them. No prizes for guessing where their loyalties would lie when elections appear on the corner.
Continuing her tirade against Marxists, Mamta wiped out Naxalites (now called Maoists) in the border districts of Jharkhand. Now, don’t ask questions how she did and raise queries about human rights. Let the CPM raise this question and justify Naxal violence elsewhere.
Why Gorkha council is now almost silent? Mamata worked for Gorkhas to some extent. But, she got votes from all other tribals and tea garden workers in the tea garden filled north Bengal. She took care of other tribal groups by setting up separate councils like the one for Santhals. The effective split in vote does wonders!
The enemy of TMC i.e., CPM was weak. They became weaker when they aligned with Congress, whose poll symbol palm proved to be that of Bhasmasura. Being a cadre based party, CPM could successfully get its voters vote for Congress candidates, but the reverse did not happen. After all, regular Congress voters spent their life time fighting the Marxist government and they didn’t heed to the call by the party supremos. Angered with the decision of Congress leadership, they voted for the next best alternative to Marxists i.e., TMC. Of course, BJP too might have got a share from these, wherever it could. But, CPM was rooted out.
If BJP or any other party wanted to shake the foundations of TMC government in Bengal, it is really tough. Mamta will win another term in 2021, may be with lesser margin. More over, like Laloo Prasad Yadav, Mamata Banerjee has already anointed her nephew as her successor and he is already in charge. Moreover, with her simple attire, Mamata Banerjee reminds the voters (most of the educated and rich in India don’t vote), she is one of them. Coming to the high decibel shrilling, she does it on purpose only to divert and trap the opposition. She will face heat when the expectations from her voters rise to another level. After all, educated ones need jobs and aspire for more, unlike the rural poor who are a more contented lot.