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Published on: May 21, 2021, 3:23 p.m.
Mamata regains Bengal, emerges the credible torchbearer
  • Mamata: a comfortable victory

By Sajal Bose. Executive Editor, Business India

“Victory of the people of Bengal, victory of the country, victory of democracy,” said Mamata Banerjee, Bengal’s third-time chief minister & supremo, All India Trinamool Congress Party (TMC), after the landslide victory in the state assembly elections. TMC won 213 out of the 294 seats, crushing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the most high decibel electoral battle in the country and the longest ever eight-phase polls.

West Bengal’s election was a prestige issue for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He, his home minister Amit Shah, his senior cabinet ministers and star campaigners were all busy shuttling between Bengal and Delhi, to campaign for the elections, while the country was reeling under the huge corona-virus crisis. There were acute shortage of oxygen, hospital beds, drugs and serums for vaccination. Thousands of people were dying.

The Opposition criticised Modi. Maharastra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray said he was trying to contact Modi to address the shortage of drugs and oxygen, but was told that the PM is too busy addressing political rallies. Yashwant Sinha, BJP’s former finance minister and present vice-president, TMC, blasted Modi describing him as insensitive. But Modi was unaffected by criticism and had his sight fixed on adding the state to the BJP stock, when Covid victims’ pyres were burning across the country. 

Modi and his entire BJP team were launching personal attacks on Banerjee and her MP nephew Abhishek, instead of focussing on the developmental issues. The PM had promised to build new Bengal but people of Bengal rejected his party’s ideology of religious polarisation. What Modi did not realise was that wooing voters of Bengal with showmanship, muscle and money power will not work. Traditionally, communal harmony is always given importance in Bengal. 

BJP’s negative campaign

To counter Trinamool’s bahiragato (outsider) gibe against BJP, Modi’s ‘Didi O Didi’ ditty was seen as disrespectful to a woman who is also chief minister. Women comprise 50 per cent of Bengal’s electorate, which mostly voted for their favourite Didi. The slogan Bangla nijer meyeke chai (Bengal wants its own daughter) worked like a charm for TMC, blowing out BJP.

There was negative sentiment evolved in the state against BJP. Elder citizens, students and others from diverse walks of life marched as part of a ‘No Vote to BJP in Bengal’ campaign before the polls. Because they thought BJP poses a threat to Bengal. “When the pandemic was underway, our PM was busy laying the foundation of Ayodhya, instead of creating a health infrastructure, which was the need of the hour. Now, he is conducting large rallies in Bengal and spreading corona virus,” said a school teacher, who had supported the campaign against BJP. Everyone realised that Trinamool was the only party that could prevent fascism. Even the CPI(M) and Congress workers also voted for Trinamool just to keep BJP out. In the process, both the parties also got eliminated from Bengal. 

BJP was confident of getting over 200 seats. But, even before the poll, Trinamool Party’s chief political strategist Prashant Kishore (PK) had predicted that BJP would not cross the two-digit mark in the election. He even stated: “If BJP gets 100 seats, I will leave my profession and do something else.” His prediction proved right, with BJP coming nowhere near the three-digit mark and managing only 77 seats. Rebel Trinamool leaders who shifted to BJP mostly lost the election. “This is the reflection of the people’s protest against BJP’s attempt to take over Bengal by force using outsiders, corrupt leaders and central agencies,” commented Partha Chatterjee now the industry minister. 

  • Budhia: expecting minimum government maximum governance

    Budhia: expecting minimum government maximum governance

“The BJP will continue to work for Bengal and take its ideology to every household,” BJP’s national president J.P. Nadda stated. “We are now the main Opposition party in the state.” The party will also review internally the flaws in its strategy that led to its defeat. 

The political shrewdness of Mamata Banerjee has brought the party its resounding victory. Some of the schemes of the West Bengal government crafted by PK, like Duare Sarkar (government at the doorstep), Swasthya Sathi (health cover scheme), Kanyashree (welfare scheme for the girl child) and Didi ke balo (tell your sister: a helpline) have paid electoral dividends.

Banerjee’s win against Modi places her as the most visible face of a United Front against BJP in national politics and her party Trinamool will have a greater say in issues now. Congratulations have been pouring in for Banerjee from Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Arvind Kejriwal, Omar Abdullah, Akhilesh Yadav, Uddhav Thackeray, M.K. Stalin, etc, among others.

“The state government under her stewardship had launched several social welfare schemes, which generated immense goodwill for her and struck a chord with voters,” says Harshavardhan Neotia, chairman, Ambuja Neotia Group. “The people have been a witness to her contribution and service to the state and so chose to bring her back”.

Banerjee has formed her government and allocated berths to 43 ministers, after convening the first cabinet of her third term at Nabanna last week. She has brought back Amit Mitra as finance minister, which is not a surprise. Mitra, who did not contest the election due to poor health, could not turn down her request and, so, has accepted the post of the finance minister in her cabinet for the third consecutive term. In a big change, Partha Chatterjee has been brought back as industry minister, from the portfolio of education. 

“Our topmost priority now is to combat the Covid situation,” Banerjee cautioned her party workers. “So, there will be no victory celebration”. She and her team are watching the Covid situation closely, with hardly any help from the Centre. Banerjee had sent several letters to the prime minister for vaccine. She has also joined the united Opposition, which sent a letter to the prime minister, seeking to stop the Central Vista project and divert the fund for free vaccination and oxygen, to fight against the unprecedented human catastrophe. 

TMC has come back to power with a thumping majority with 213 seats and a 48 per cent share of the vote. It now needs to uplift the state’s economy and create more jobs. Banerjee and her team should demonstrate their ability to bring big-ticket investments to showcase the revival of industrialisation in Bengal.

Sanjay Budhia, managing director, Patton International, an engineering export house in Kolkata, expects the industrial policy to be simplified further. “There should be ‘minimum government and maximum governance’,” he says. Special emphasis needs to be given on the manufacturing sector, which creates employment and has multiplier effect.” Budhia is also chairman, National Committee on Export & Imports, CII.

  • Neotia: TMC’s welfare schemes generated immense goodwill

    Neotia: TMC’s welfare schemes generated immense goodwill

Creating jobs

“While it is true that a number of projects has come in, the state needs more of them as the spotlight is on brightening its economy, as also creating job and employment opportunities,” Neotia explains. In the election manifesto, TMC had promised to create 500,000 jobs a year. The state should also work towards increasing its revenue generation significantly, which will help reduce its debt. This can be primarily done in two ways: speed up the growth, so as to increase the GSDP which, in turn, will lead to higher collection of taxes and monetisation of government assets (disinvestment, sale of land, etc), he adds.

“TMC should introspect and find out what worked in BJP’s favour in some areas of Bengal,” says an industrialist on condition of anonymity. “The party had managed to raise their tally to 77 seats from just three seats in 2016. There are two issues that have troubled TMC in the election – first is corruption and the second is the party’s policy of Muslim appeasement”. During the last five years, the corruption level in the Trinamool party has gone up manifold. People now expect Banerjee to crack the whip and weed out the culprits. Also, a section of the Hindus feel cheated by Mamata’s patronage to Muslims, to consolidate their votes. “She should realise that her party may have got a large chunk of Muslim vote, but support from Hindus cannot be ignored,” says an IT professional. Mamata should streamline the organisation and adopt the right philosophy for an image makeover. 

Siddhartha Sanyal, chief economist & head, research, Bandhan Bank, feels that enhancing physical infrastructure, such as improving highways, ports and water transportation remain key pre-conditions for Bengal’s long-term economic uplift. Echoing the importance of infrastructure, Vikash Agarwal, president, ICC, remarks: “West Bengal has increased the infrastructure spend by almost 10 times, including PPP and private projects. It now needs to focus on speedy implementation of projects.”

Real estate developers’ association CREDAI has extended full support to Banerjee to make the state one of the premier destinations for the industry, investment and livelihood. Harsh Vardhan Patodia, president, CREDAI National, says, “We expect a new era of reforms and growth for people of Bengal.”

Banerjee and her team must work hard for the development of the state. But her real challenge would be to elicit unconditional support from the Centre.

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