Millennium Post

Less haste and more thought

In the beginning of the last decade, the Left front government of West Bengal felt the urge to do ‘industrialisation’ with an additional fervour and gusto. Sure, there was Chief Minister’s annual trip to London, sure there were those occasional government ceremonies with a gathering of a few local industrialists, sure the authority was going on putting up the show of being proactive and sincere about bringing investments, but the semblance was not up to the newly set standard of emerging middle-class.

It did not take long for the wizened leadership of party to figure out that in spite of its lacklustre performance and its infamy, the urban middle-class scene of the state is rapidly changing thanks to the globalised economic model adapted by the centre. So in order to meet with the evolving urban populace and their aspiration, the party decided to be, or at least to seem, more dynamic in terms of embracing the new world order.

The history bears witness of what followed next: the ‘arrival’ of much coveted industry, the land acquisition movements and the disastrous political consequence, not only for the left but for the entire class of people who were trying to play the harbinger of new era in West Bengal both socially as well as politically by pioneering the path of industrialisation. The upshot was the Trinamool Congress riding the popular movements and discontent to power.

However, the urban ambition of being a part of the ‘globalised industrialised emerging India’ remained under the lurk of changed political discourse.  Even though political campaign of then opposition, namely Trinamool Congress, began with allegiance to the rural reality and decrying CPM’s betrayal to that, it ended up promising Londonisation of Kolkata and ‘mismanagement’ by Left.
The endeavour to appease the urban middle-class whose social and political position on land acquisition was often questionable (in spite of a rally here and there), was thus unmistakable.

The latest trip of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to Singapore in order to ‘attract investment’ somehow give away old slight of hands that used to be played by the left front government. The political message was loud and clear: the government is thinking in terms of urbanisation-industrialisation and not merely spouting rhetoric against their newly rising political opposition: BJP. The leadership of TMC is shrewd enough to recognise that current pull towards BJP in West Bengal is, evidently, the want of economic aspiration of both the middle class as well as the working class. And the only way to neutralise this new surge is to placate the demand for the ‘development’.

In a post-cold war globalised world, the role of state has evolved very rapidly. The idea of welfare state, though was never openly challenged except for a few parts of the first world countries, steadily eroded from within and from outside. As the strength of capital continued to grow, the political will of the ‘socialistic endeavour’ dwindled constantly. From the insurer of universal welfare, provider of equity-based legal system and constructor of infrastructure, the role of state has been actively reduced to sentinel of capital. India is no different from this global trend. While the first five year development commission comprising the leading industrialists of the nation of that time vociferated for powerful welfare state instituting governance for all, today’s declining role of state is becoming more and more vivid, with opening up newer nationalised sectors for investments every day, shrinking the size and scope of the state.

For its somewhat different political history, West Bengal remained an outlier from this general political spectrum. It has been quite a while since the stream of capital has flown effortlessly here, and yet the scope of governance has reduced steadily and fundamentally, giving away its place to parallel administrative organs run by the ruling party. The vacuum of state itself once was being filled by local organisations of CPM, and now TMC rightfully has taken up the mantle.  This bizarre amalgamation of political community and state system has stifled whatever natural growth potential the state had, economic or otherwise.

Mamata’s trip, in a way this is kind of a déjà vu with somewhat of role reversals. The mantle of CPM is being carried by the new ruling party, trying in vain to balance its original anti-neoliberal positions with its acquired pro-industrialist stances, where the BJP is the new right-wing opposition complaining about the lack of free-market principles under the rhetoric of mismanagement of governance.

There was, however, an alternate path to traverse for TMC. If they had the fortitude and the earnestness to open the question of development in terms of serious political economy, if they were brave enough to face the issue that was looking on their face when they ascended to power, if they had the political moral to address the question and find an answer that may not have pleased the urban youth but would save the interests of larger masses. It would certainly have done a lot of service, not only for the people of Bengal grappling with the issue first-hand, but the people of entire subcontinent who are in their everyday struggle is trying to find the middle-ground between the global and the local. IPA
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