Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mamta Banerjee and Writer's Building - The role of manifesto

Without any doubt the current Union Minister for Indian Railways is one of the most popular leaders in India with a mass following. Indeed when many are arguing for women reservation bill, Mamta reached the higher echelons of Indian democracy without the support of so called Reservations. In fact she was elected as the youngest parliamentarian in 1984 defeating veteran communist leader Somnath Chaterjee from Jadavpur.

Later she left congress and formed ‘Trinamool Congress’ (1997) and joined the Vajpayee government as Railway minister. She presented her first Railway budget in 2000. Her simple living and mingling with people - like any another commoner – only increased her popularity. Indeed in India, many are seeing politics as a ladder to attain wealth and after the elections they will become alien to the people whom they are going to represent in parliament. People may not yet forget the controversial scene of 1998, when she dragged a ‘Samajwadi Party’ MP out of the wells of ‘LokSabha’ in order to prevent him from protesting during the Women reservation bill.

After losing the 2005 Kolkata Municipal elections and 2006 West Bengal elections, she made herself popular by agitating against the land acquisition for ‘Salim Group’, ‘Tata Motors’ etc. Tata finally moved out of West Bengal. The agitations went so far that now-a-days industrial houses will be happy to avoid a confrontation in WB (in fact the state itself), still the natural resources of WB is a temptation for many of them. Performance in the last parliament elections made her indivisible part of ‘Manmohan Cabinet’ and again become the railway minister, recent victory in municipal elections only increased her strength.

So far good, but in the second term she had to fight against the legacy of ‘Lalu Prasad Yadav’ – One of the most successful Railway minister of India – who also holds the credit for turning around the Indian railway from its disastrous journey to a profitable path. But after his time as the minister in cabinet was over, Railways once again turned around and starts the disastrous journey even if it is of lower velocity. Otherwise how can you explain the curious things in the balance sheet of Indian Railway? For the fiscal year 2009-10 railways revised their projection of profit from 2642.26 crore rupees to 951.03 – a whopping decline of 64%. If we are comparing it with the 2007-08 the decline is a staggering 93%. These values will certainly be a puzzle even for a well seasoned economist.

Not only the declining profit of Indian railways, the increasing accidents in the network and her special preference for West Bengal – It is a known fact that most of the railway ministers focused on their own state and will make it sure that least half of the new trains will start, end or go through their state – made her a controversial figure outside WB (regarding railways).

I still remember my conversations with one of my friend who is from Delhi but originally from Kolkata. I was explaining to him about my problem of getting a reservation for a journey to Kerala - as it was Onam season I booked the ticket some 70-80 days before the journey, but waiting lists was closed for that particular day, I checked for the previous day, and got a position in waiting list. Then our discussion went to the allotment of numerous trains for Bengal and Bihar after every budget –for a long time Railway ministers are coming from these two states. But his answer was really a thought provoking one – ‘We have that much trains but not enough track for running it’. A clear indication of cosmetic/surface revolution!

Frequent skipping of cabinet meetings and controlling railways from Kolkata will neither prove good for Railways nor for the nation. It is not extremely great to have a great ambition for something (to become the CM Bengal) but it should not be at the cost of vital sectors of the nation. If she want to concentrate on WB assembly polls she can put some other efficient person even from her party lines to this decorated post, but nation certainly deserve a full time railway minister.

Not only regarding railways, Mamta had to look forward on what she is going to do if she become the CM of West Bengal, instead of fully focusing on criticizing current WB government. If she is going to become the chief minister after next elections, then the message from the people is very clear – they want a change and have a lot of expectations from her. State also deserves a clear view of her intention regarding to the developments and changes which can be expected if she become CM. Concentrating on criticizing CPI (M) may prove good when she is in opposition, but once she has the responsibility of a state she have to concentrate on the well being of people and development of State, it should not be like the declining profits of Indian Railways.

No one is sure about her industrial policy, neither her economical policy. It is not clear what she is going to do on Maoist problems. This is the place where many parties fails – creating a clear vision on what they are going to do. Before every election everyone is engaged in bashing each other, but they are not presenting a clear view on what they are going to do. Even if they presented many of them will not be followed. In many cases parties are taking 360 degree views after elections. One simple but effective policy is divide and rule – indeed a time-tested one. Divide the people on caste and other lines, create a vote bank out of it, and try to satisfy them in definite inter wells.

Many of the parties don’t even have clearly defined Industrial, Foreign, social and economic policies, so that people will be able to know what they are going to do once they are elected. This case also offering the parties much higher flexibility – when some issue comes they can sleep with any one, ideology will not be problem. Some other Parties will come up with Utopian policies, which are clearly not practical or the execution of it will create a drain on exchequer. Some others will come up with an ever changing policy - whatever suits them at that that time – which will definitely help them for horse trading after the elections. The so called party manifestos may not even have the worth of the paper in which it is written.

Here Mamta got a chance to rewrite the history; if she becomes the CM of West Bengal after the next election it will defiantly become history – the end of continuous rule of CPI (M) in West Bengal from 1977. This is the time for her to come up with her policies, what she is intending to do, and live up to it. Certainly people have the right to know what they can expect from the representatives they are going to elect. Mere bashing will not result in any constructive purpose.


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