The people of West Bengal must be wondering whether in choosing Mamata Banerjee over the Left, they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire. If the state was looking towards a bright economic future, the prospect does not seem promising in the wake of her stand on FDI in the retail sector, for it is obvious that investors will now be even more wary of her. The reason is that she evidently does not have an economic vision in sync with the central role that the private sector is playing at a time of globalisation.
Even earlier, her chant of ‘Ma, mati, manush’ was evidence enough of the unsubstantial, emotive nature of her thoughts. It is a slogan that harks back to an idyllic village scene, reminiscent of Hemanta Mukherjee’s celebrated song of the 1960s — kono ek gann-er bodhu — about a village wife. The present world is vastly different. Even Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee understood this transformation, which is why he dumped Marxism and asked the corporate czars at home and abroad to kick-start industrialisation.
Arguably, Mamata’s successful scuttling of this laudable initiative — though implemented wrongly — in Singur and Nandigram constitutes the basis of her outlook, which has no time for the private sector. For the present, therefore, her emphasis is on the public sector and on handouts from the centre, of which the first installment has already been sanctioned. But, these are not quite the recipes that can lift the state out of its economic morass.
In a way, therefore, she is making the same mistakes the comrades made half a century ago when their militancy led to the flight of capital. But, if their blunder was the result of an ideological blind spot, Mamata’s error is of someone whose mind still carries the faint imprints of Nehruvian socialism the Congress followed when she was a member. Ironically, while the Congress is abandoning its socialistic preferences in favour of market-oriented reforms, Mamata is still adhering to them.
But, it isn’t faith in the dogma that guides her. Instead, her objective apparently is to deny the Left even its customary ideological space in West Bengal after having ousted the commissars from the political field. It is difficult to say, however, to what extent her tactics will be successful, not least because few will believe that her socialistic pretensions are based on a firm doctrinaire foundation. In all probability, she merely thinks that her professed concern for the common man, like her unostentatious way of dressing, is good politics.
Unfortunately, in mimicking the Left’s ideology, she has apparently decided to go the whole distance by opposing a whole set of reforms at the centre, whether it is FDI for pension funds or aviation or insurance. It seems, therefore, that she is virtually carrying on from where the Left off after its withdrawal of support from the Manmohan Singh government in 2008.
But, her fallacies do not end here. As her insistence on the West Bengal applicants for the common medical entrance examinations being allowed to write in Bengali shows, she is also imitating one of the Left’s major howlers when it stopped teaching English between classes I and V. As a result, several generations that grew up during the three decades of communist rule made themselves ineligible for employment in any other state.
If her economic ideas are half a century old, her recourse toparochialism, which she also displayed by sabotaging the agreement on sharing the Teesta waters with Bangladesh, is new in the sense that West Bengal has never favoured the kind of insularity which, say, the AASU in Assam and the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra flaunt. Clearly, Mamata wants to play any card she thinks can prove useful. The cynicism inherent in this attitude was also evident when she utilised the Maoists to target the Marxists before the elections and then turned on them after the polls with such severity that her one-time admirer and the pro-Maoist writer Mahashweta Devi called her ‘fascist.’
There is little doubt, of course, that her popularity remains high if only because the Left remains in a state of shell-shock and her ally, the Congress, is sulking because of the contemptuous manner in which she treats it. So far, her only success has been in defusing, but not resolving, the Darjeeling issue. But without a credible vision for development, she will be unable to sustain her popular appeal.