During the time of independence, rather during partition of India, had not there been a person named Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerji, the state named West Bengal would not have formed. Only state of India which was partitioned twice, first in 1905 when the pure purpose of the British was to divide and rule, secondly in 1947 when Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee fought for Hindu homeland. Had not these two historical events – Direct Action Day and Noakhali Genocide in 1946 happened, West Bengal would not have formed in 1947 and may have gone to East Pakistan.
This land gave the first president of Indian National Congress, Womesh Chandra Bonnerjee. Again this land gave founders of Communist Party of India, Manabendra Nath Roy and Abani Mukherji. The list continues, land which gave founder of Forward Bloc, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose (undivided Bengal), the land which gave founder of Jan Sangh, Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee should have performed far better than the way it has performed so far. Does the land which gave birth to so many national political parties and great leaders deserve such state of affairs which it is going through since independence? This land should have featured in top 2 states of India in all parameters always. What went wrong? Why it doesn’t feature in top 2? Let us see how political forces came to power in West Bengal and how they ruled the state.
During Noakhali Genocide in 1946, the backbone of the Hindus were smashed and they fled for life to Tripura, Assam and majorly to Western part of undivided Bengal (presently West Bengal) and they started living in unimaginable condition. The anger of these refugee Hindus was excellently encashed by the Communists in Bengal. The Indian National Congress ruled till February 1967 since independence, in the meanwhile Communists of Bengal increased its supporter base by spreading its ideology. How? It needs no explanation, these refugees were poor, and had to live in below-standard conditions. Communist party intervened that time and promised gains to the poor and made it their core ideology and as a result, found natural support from these refugees.
Not only were the Hindu Refugees, the natives of West Bengal ravaged by poverty for many years. British ransacked the wealth of Bengal from the beginning, defeating Siraj-ud-Daula and ruling it for 200 years – more than any other states of India. After that, there were the famines which affected Bengal the worst. Communist party focused only on the ‘poor’ and gave promises of wealth creation for the poor, which naturally appealed the poor masses.
Bengal was the first province to develop modern industries in India. It was once called the Manchester of the East by Europeans because of its Jute mills and other factories. A new class developed in Bengal, the class of industrial workers which was absent in any other part of the country. Industrial workers differed fundamentally from peasants in the fact that they had to dilute social norms and practices like religion and caste to survive in the factory settings. An upper caste worked on the same floor as a Dalit or a Hindu had to share toilets with a Muslim in a worker’s colony. As a result social inhibitions got away and workers were able to identify with each other as belonging to one class instead of being fragmented on the basis of caste or religion. So the Communist party which talked about the ‘workers’ were able to gather immense support from them too.
The Indian National Congress was dethroned in West Bengal by the United Front in 1967. Since then communists had been major political influencer in the state. The only achievement which the communists can boast of in West Bengal is the Land Reform done by them, better known as Operation Barga. The Communists also gave few names to the history of West Bengal which people want to forget today, few such historical names are listed below:
Singur and Tapasi Mallick,
Netai, which we elaborated in our earlier blogs, West Bengal Politics: Blood Stained Names – I and West Bengal Politics: Blood Stained Names – II
Apart from those historical names during the Communist regime, West Bengal saw continuous industrial decline, removal of English from primary school, hostile trade union which affected employment, extortion, builders’ syndicate, party members engaged in corruption, political murders, false cases on opposition party members and rigging of elections. The anti-establishment approach of the early day’s communists continued even when they were ruling in West Bengal. They continued their anti-establishment approach with Central Government which reduced Central Government’s priority for this state and resulted in retardation of the development of West Bengal.
Let us quickly go through the economic condition of the state during Left regime. In the late 1940s, factory employment in West Bengal was as much as in all of Bombay State (present Maharashtra and Gujarat combined). West Bengal was the second-most industrialized state in terms of value added and first in terms of number of factories and employment even in the mid-1960s. With a severe and long process of deindustrialization, it lost its primacy. Its share of net value added in the factory sector fell from more than 14% in 1971 to 4% in 2002, and its share in employment from 16% to 7%. Yet in 1980-81, in per capita income, Bengal ranked fifth after Gujarat, Haryana, Maharashtra and Punjab. By 2000-01, Himachal Pradesh and the four southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu overtook West Bengal and its rank slipped to 10th. Today we hardly keep a track of ranking as West Bengal has slipped down to bottom 10 in many parameters!!
Readers will be amazed to know, in 1953, the Calcutta Tramways Company could not revise its second-class fares, unchanged since 1922. There were protests by the Tram and Bus Fare Enhancement Resistance Committee, known popularly as Pratirodh Committee, led by the future Communist Party of India-Marxist Chief Minister Jyoti Basu, and Subodh Banerjee of ‘gherao’ fame, among others. The CTC went bankrupt and was taken over by the West Bengal government in 1967. Subodh Banerjee, minister in the 1967 and 1969 United Front Government, introduced the ‘gherao’ tactic, by which the employer is prevented from leaving the workplace until workers’ demands are met. ‘Gherao’ was added to the Oxford Dictionary in 2004, and he became immortal, as a Bengali enriching the English vocabulary in recent times!
Trinamool Congress (TMC)
If we look at the political history of Bengal, Bengal had been a land known for mass movements. Bengal was the epicentre of the Swadeshi movement. It produced more violent movements against the British rule since the Sepoy Mutiny than any other province. So the politics in Bengal has been dominated by anti-establishment since the British period. Also, Bengal was the first state to witness movements for workers’ rights in India. These movements did not have much to do with communism but the driving force of a left movement has to come from the workers. Bengal observed industrial strikes since the late 19th Century and these movements were crucial in the development of class consciousness among workers. There were also massive peasant movements in Bengal before the independence. The Tebhaga Movement was one such movement which was against the Zamindari system. It was a movement for demanding two third of share of the crop for the peasants who produced them.
These movements continued with demands for land reforms, food security and for rehabilitation of refugees after the partition. These movements were utilized by the Communist party to build a solid mass base among a large section of the people. The Trinamool Congress, rather Mamata Banerjee understood it very well that only a strong mass movement can dethrone the Communists from West Bengal. She continuously tried to build up such movement, on October 1992 she organized a massive rally at Brigade Parade Ground and struck “Death Bell” to oust the Communist regime from Bengal. On December 1992, Ms Banerjee took a physically challenged girl Felani Basak, who was allegedly raped by CPI(M) cadres, to the Writers’ Building to the then Chief Minister Jyoti Basu but was harassed and allegedly molested by the police before being arrested and released from detention at midnight, this attracted universal outrage. Ms Banerjee along with Pankaj Banerjee and Madan Mitra decided to march to Writers’ Building on 21st July 1993, to appeal Photo Voter ID cards (EPIC) to be made mandatory for free and fair poll. 13 got killed!
After all these futile attempts for mass movement earlier, Mamata Banerjee was in a pathetic state of affair, but she waited for an appropriate opportunity. Nandigram and Singur came simultaneously to her, which she didn’t falter to grab as an opportunity. Rest is history. On 2011, 34 years of Left rule in West Bengal was uprooted by her almost single-handedly. People of West Bengal sighed relief!
Everything went well till February 2012, the scenario dramatically changed from an incident of rape at Park Street in Kolkata. It was followed by another rape at Katwa in March 2012. It was followed by murder of Barun Biswas – a school teacher, who protested against a local criminal gang, who were using gang-rape to terrorize the people of Sutia, on 5th July 2012. Anarchy erupted throughout the state thereafter. West Bengal recorded the highest number of gender crimes in the country at 30,942 in 2012 – 12.7 percent of India’s total recorded crimes against women. These crimes include rape, kidnapping and sexual harassment and molestation. Kamduni, Madhyamgram, Dhupguri and many more rape incidents happened in subsequent years. Most astonishingly, on Jan 2014, a 20-year-old woman in West Bengal was gang-raped by 13 men on the orders of a Panchayat, as punishment for having a relationship with a man from a different community, at Subalpur village in Birbhum, about 180 km from Kolkata.
Appeasements of the minority community by TMC lead to riots at various parts of West Bengal and to utter surprise the mainstream media didn’t report it even! Namely, Deganga Riot in 2010, Canning Riot in 2013, Nadia Riot, Samudragarh Riot and Usti Riot in 2015. During this period, in Bangladesh, High Court cancelled the registration of the Jamaat-e-Islami on 1 August 2013, ruling that the party is unfit to contest national polls because its charter puts God above democratic process. Many fled Bangladesh and took shelter in neighbouring states of India and did spread their activity in border districts of West Bengal. Had not been a blast at Khagragarh in Burdwan on 2nd October 2014 the presence of Jamaats in West Bengal would remained unknown to all of us.
Along with the mentioned in above two paragraphs, West Bengal witnessed more industrial decline, more extortion, more hostile builders’ syndicate, more false cases on opposition party members and more rigging of elections compared to the left ruled West Bengal. Apart from those, harassment of School Teachers and College Professors and Principals within School and College campus was new addition. And above all, was the alleged involvement of Ministers, MPs, MLAs and leaders of TMC in Chit Fund Scam.
Land acquisition policy of TMC ruled State Government is another hindrance for the development of industry and infrastructure of the state. West Bengal, after Bihar, the second-most densely populated state of India, has 1,029 people a square kilometre. With so little land and so many people, agriculture alone cannot put the state on a sustained path of high growth and prosperity. Agriculture can grow at say five per cent for a few years, but can never absorb surplus labour in ‘quality’ employment or generate sustained seven to eight per cent overall growth for two to three decades.
Promoting industry requires land acquisition for new industry and rejuvenation of the physical infrastructure. The infrastructure bottleneck is best illustrated by the sorry state of the north-south corridor extending from Haldia port via Kolkata to Siliguri in the north, and touching important towns such as Baharampur, Krishnanagar, Malda and Raiganj. It is an artery connecting Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim to the sea, and Bangladesh and the seven sisters in the Northeast to the western parts of India. The corridor improvement project, including its four-laning, got stuck for years because of land acquisition problem. Such was the poor state of National Highway-34, the corridor’s southern section, that all air-conditioned bus services between Kolkata and Siliguri were suspended in August 2013!
Mamata Banerjee, as a Minister of Railways of India was well aware of the Federal Structure of India, took its advantage and laid innumerable foundation stones of Railway Project in West Bengal. She was well aware that only a good relation between State and Centre can develop a state. But what she did as a CM? She took the Communist path of Anti-Centre! And a step further, she even degraded political rivalry to an extent of mimicry of PM in an interview! Her ego is another hindrance for West Bengal’s development; till date, she didn’t attend any Niti Ayog (earlier Planning Commission) meeting called by PM Narendra Modi. Instead she declared ‘Telebhaja’ as industry and ‘Muri bhaja’ as employment generating avenue!! How will this state get priority from Centre?
Hopefully we were able to list down few points among many, which retarded the economic growth and degraded socio-political standard of this land. If we really want to develop this Sate, each political party, leader, political party member and each political worker in West Bengal has to rise up and shine (a phrase commonly used by Derek O’Brian, Rajya Sabha Member of TMC, in his tweet-lines) over petty politics like appeasement, extortion, builders’ syndicate, party members engaged in corruption, political murders, false cases on opposition party members, calling ‘Telebhaja’ industry, generating employment through Muri Bhaja (parched rice) and rigging of elections and work only for the real development of the state.