Still riding high

West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee continues with her winning ways. After her party Trinamool Congress vanquished the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in May, Banerjee has returned to win an Assembly byelection in Kolkata. Even more spectacular for her has been the Calcutta high court’s decision that the Trinamool Congress-led West Bengal government’s action to reclaim the land given away by the previous Left Front regime to Tata Motors for building a car manufacturing unit in Singur was valid and constitutional. With the stamp of judicial authority behind her decision to proclaim and issue the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, Banerjee will undoubtedly walk tall in Bengal and reinforce her standing as the saviour of the state’s poor and the marginalised. In recent times, Banerjee could successfully mobilise the electorate by using the Singur and Nandigram episodes as blunt instruments to topple the Marxists’ well-entrenched political machine.

There is no doubt that she is an elemental force as much as she is a politician whose unswerving pursuit was to oust the Leftists from Writers’ Buildings. That has been achieved, but the bigger question that now dominates the political discourse in Bengal is whether Banerjee is capable of governing a state that all but crumbled under the Marxists who left it economically bankrupt and socially and culturally empty. Already she has failed to keep her promise of transforming a decrepit Kolkata, where the human condition has certainly degenerated. She had given herself 200 days, from assuming the seat of chief minister, to usher in the makeover. But Kolkata’s condition has only worsened – and this is not lost on the people of a city once known for its economic, urban, cultural and social grandeur. Populist moves, such as renaming West Bengal Paschim Banga have not gone down well with the people, especially the educated, middle-class intelligentsia.

The Calcutta high court judgment on the Singur Act is surely a shot in the arm for Banerjee. But the very electorate that swept her party to power is now questioning whether the agitator in her will be replaced by an administrator. Banerjee’s government inherited a debt burden of Rs 1,92,000 crore which is among the highest in the country relative to the size of its economy. There are simply too many areas of governance that need urgent and immediate attention. Banerjee might have been elected on a populist platform but she must now deliver on economic development.

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