Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Impact Of Mamata's Victory On Bangladesh

On May 13 , the unofficial result in West Bengal assembly elections show that the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) was decimated after 34 years of rule. Trinamool Congress (TMC) led Ms. Mamata Banerjee and her ally the Congress Party won 226 seats out of 294. The outgoing Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and 16 ministers of the Left Front lost their seats. The Left Front secured only 62 seats. Ms. Banerjee declared her party's success as "the new day of independence for the people of West Bengal." TMC in West Bengal is a partner of the Congress-led government in New Delhi. Ms. Mamata Banerjee has been the union railways minister. She is expected to become the chief minister of West Bengal. The historical defeat for the Left Front in West Bengal, after three decades in power, is the product of perceived arrogance and political blunders where party convictions and and commitment were ditched. The popular 56- year-old Banerjee, who is the founder and chairperson of the Trinamool Congress which she set up in 1998 after falling out with the Congress Party in West Bengal, can now have the satisfaction of being a victorious party leader. For years the face of the opposition in West Bengal, Banerjee, known to her supporters as Didi (sister) has been the nemesis of the ruling CPI(M)-led Left Front over the last 23 years and has earned the reputation of being a street-fighting politician. Banerjee, a firebrand orator, coined a catchy slogan Ma, Mati o Manush (mother, land and people) before last year's Lok Sabha polls and played on the anti-incumbency factor after more than three decades of Left rule and the creeping disillusionment among several sections, like Muslims, to decimate the Left in partnership with the Congress. Her nondescript residence -- a tiled single-storey house in a dingy lane close to the Kalighat temple -- and equally simple attire comprising cotton saris, jhola bags and cheap hawai chappals, endeared her to the masses. The Left Front leaders say it will play the role of a responsible opposition by accepting the people's mandate. "A majority of people wanted us to sit in the opposition. We respect the people' s verdict. We will act responsibly, we will not act like them (the Trinamool Congress)," said West Bengal state secretariat member Gautam Deb, who was housing minister in the Left Front government. Why did the Left Front lose the election? There are many reasons but those below deserve mention: * India is so large, with 1.2 billion people, that regional interests override national interests. That is the reason why regional parties, based on caste or state-issues, do well in states. Regional parties are often personality-based and personality clash exists within the states; * The economy of West Bengal is poorer than that of northern and western states. Private sector was hesitant to invest in West Bengal because of their political ideology. In recent years, many factories shed their workers and unemployment increased in West Bengal; * The density of population in West Bengal is quite high (almost 900 per sq kilometre) and, as such, land allocation per person is quite meager. In 2007-08 , West Bengal had witnessed large-scale agitation spearheaded by Banerjee in Singur and Nandigram over land acquisition, which alienated the Left Front from the masses. It dented the compassionate image of the Left Front when police with firearms assaulted the farmers, including women, who protested the acquisition of their lands; * In 2008 , Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen, who described himself as a Leftist, also questioned the policy of land acquisition for industrialisation which was being pursued by the Left Front government. "Land acquisition for setting up industries should be the last recourse," he said; * Ms. Banerjee was able to project herself as leader of the poor and the rural have-nots, a friend of the minorities, a champion of inclusive growth and one genuinely interested in delivering the goods; * The long-term rule of the Left Front had created an impression of tiredness and stagnation, and people wanted a change from its 34- year rule. The Left Front was not able to convince the voters during the election campaign because of its past record. It had lost its credibility to the majority of the people. Out of our 4 ,096 km border with India, 2 ,216.7 km lies along West Bengal. Farakka Barrage is located in West Bengal and was constructed to flush the silt of the Hoogly River for navigability of the Kolkata sea port. New Delhi may not be able to force West Bengal to do what the centre perhaps wants. For example, the delay in handing over the Tin Bigha corridor to Bangladesh enclave Dhahagram and Angopota was reportedly partly due to the opposition of the West Bengal Assembly. It may be recalled that the 30- year old Indo-Bangladesh Ganges Water Treaty of 1996 was possible because of the active participation of the then chief minister late Jyoti Basu. Again, reportedly the interim Teesta Water Agreement with Bangladesh could not be signed until the West Bengal election was held. Transit from Bhutan and Nepal through Bangladesh involves territory of West Bengal. The attitude of the West Bengal government toward bilateral issues with Bangladesh plays a major part in implementing whatever decisions New Delhi agrees with Bangladesh. Now that TMC, a partner of the Union Congress-led government in New Delhi, will be in power in West Bengal with the Congress, West Bengal-New Delhi relations may be on the same wavelength. Whatever New Delhi decides may not face bottlenecks in West Bengal. It is hoped that some of the issues with Bangladesh that involve West Bengal will be resolved in the days ahead.