Time for regime change in Bengal, says PM

Time for regime change in Bengal, says PM

Addressing election meetings in the state, the prime minister said it was time for a regime change after 34 years of Left Front rule and pledged to give the state's falling education standards a push  if the opposition alliance won popular mandate.

Singh, who held well-attended rallies at Katwa in Burdwan district and Kolkata's suburb Dum Dum in North 24-Parganas district, appealed to the people to "give a chance" to the Congress-Trinamool alliance to govern the state.

The Dum Dum rally was politically significant as Trinamool chief Mamata Banerjee shared the dais with the prime minister and Congress heavyweight Pranab Mukherjee was also present. It was the first joint meeting of top leaders of the Congress and Trinamool Congress during the assembly election campaign.

Addressing Banerjee as "my sister", Singh described the Trinamool supremo as a valued partner of the United Progressive Alliance government and said she has always worked hard for the betterment of West Bengal.

The prime minister regretted that West Bengal lagged behind other states in industry and many factories had closed down. How would the people get employment if investments did not come, he asked.

"There is a huge demand for manpower for industry, including information and technology. But there is no infrastructure. Investment in these sectors is hugely required. Only our alliance can bring in the necessary investments... a new industrial revolution," he said.

Recalling his experience of working with many well-known economists from the state such as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen and Sukhomoy Chakroborty, the prime minister regretted that the state's educational standards had "sharply deteriorated".

"According to the 2001 census, Bengal stood 18th in literacy. According to the just concluded census, the state has fallen further behind to 20th spot, behind smaller states like Nagaland and Manipur," said Singh.

He said if the opposition alliance was voted to power, the state would march ahead in education. "We will have to work very hard. The infrastructure and teaching staff need to be improved."

Hitting out at the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) led government, Manmohan Singh expressed concern over the law and order situation and said political violence has affected the people hard.

"Law and order is a matter of deep concern. People do not feel safe. Political violence has had ill-effects on the people. Central forces had to be deployed at many places like Jhargram (in West Midnapore district). If we come to power, our first job will be to establish peace and order," Singh said.

Singh stressed it was time to usher in a regime change. "I appeal to the masses to give the Congress-Trinamool alliance a chance to govern the state. The people have given the chance to the Left Front to rule the state for 34 years. But the time of change has come. Sonia Gandhi (Congress president) has given me this message that Congress-Trinamool be given a chance," Manmohan Singh said.

Refering to the Rajinder Sachar Committee report on the condition of Muslims, the prime minister said the conditions of the community were "very poor" in West Bengal compared to other states and held the LF government responsible for this.

"Their representation in government jobs is very low. If we come to power, we will take everybody along on the path of development". Singh also attacked the Left Front government for neglecting the state's cultural development.

The prime minister assailed the Left Front for failing to utilise central funds meant for development.

"The National Rural Employment Gaurantee Act is a burning example. While Andhra Pradesh has generated 60 lakh employment, West Begnal could generate only 48 lakh. Bengal could provide on an average 22 days of work, while the national average was 36," he said.

Dum Dum will go to polls April 27 and Katwa May 3 in the third and fourth phases of the elections respectively.