Kolkata was the capital of British India from 1858-1911. When we got Independence, it was still India’s premier city on many counts. West Bengal was also the leader in many industries and was probably the cultural capital of India.
West Bengal had everything going to become India’s most developed State while Kolkata had a head-start to one day become a world class city, ahead of New Delhi and Mumbai. However while things moved slowly for the first 20 years, after that things totally went downhill with each and every party that ruled it contributing to its downfall.
Congress, 1967-77: 1967 was a 9/11 type of year for West Bengal. While the Congress became weaker at the Centre, it failed to get a majority in the State. From 1967-72, there were four Chief Ministers and two rounds of President’s rule.
Governance took a backseat and the State’s decline started. To make matters worse, the Naxalbari uprising broke out in the same year and West Bengal’s long tryst with violence (something that lasts to this present day) began.
The 1971 war saw Bangladeshi refugees come in the millions in the State and instead of finding a permanent solution; the Congress merely turned them into another captive vote bank. The Congress returned to power for a five-year term in 1972.
However Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray totally mismanaged the Bangladeshi refugee crisis and his brutal crackdown on the Naxalites meant that the Congress was alienated so badly in 1977 that they have been shut out of the State to this present day.
CPM, 1977-2011: When the CPM came to power, there was great hope and they did implement some much-needed land reforms initially and talked a lot about alleviating the plight of the farmers and the poor.
However with each passing year, the CPM bungled on governance. Political violence flourished under their rule. Vigilantism and muscle power was the order of the day. Industries went to the dogs and the issue of poverty (a CPM pet plank) was far from solved.
Allegations of rigging in the elections ruled the roost and professionals and workers started emigrating as the economy bungled and employment figures went down. Chief Minister Jyoti Basu may have been Chief Minister for 23 years, but today he is known more for his misses than hits.
His successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee tried hard to buck the trend, but it was too late and the CPM was voted out of power in 2011.
Trinamool, 2011- : Mamata Banerjee became Chief Minister amidst great expectations in 2011, but after three years one may say that she is a total failure. She stormed to power after the Singur imbroglio a controversy that in the end benefited no-one from the Tatas to the people of Singur.
Mamata appears to be more far Left than the CPM and she has totally failed to put development and governance on track and gain the confidence of the industry. West Bengal continues to lag behind on many parameters.
States like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have shown that it is possible to bring about the change in the State if the will is there.
To make matters worse Mamata has proved to be a paranoid and megalomaniac leader. Her regime threw a professor in jail over a forwarded cartoon. Violence continues unabated in the State. There were allegations of election rigging in the Lok Sabha elections.
BJP workers are being killed. While crimes against women have finally started being taken seriously, Mamata seems to be least bothered. She called rapes a conspiracy and walked out a meeting when a student asked a question on the same issue dubbing her a Maoist.
When her MP Tapas Pal said he would send his boys to rape political opponents, Mamata at first ignored it and later found a mere apology enough. “What do you want me to do about him, kill him?” she thundered.
It is tragic that such a powerful woman is least bothered about crimes against women and politicians making misogynistic statements and threats.
First the Congress clean bowled West Bengal.
Then it was the turn of the CPM.
Finally it was the Trinamool.
This hat-trick has totally ruined the State of West Bengal.
If the Trinamool returns in the 2016 Assembly elections, then there is no hope for the State.
If the anti-Trinamool vote is divided between the CPM, Congress and BJP, then we could have a hung Assembly.
It appears to be a Catch-22 situation for the Bengali voter with no long-term prospects for the development of the State in sight.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here.