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Is it time to move beyond Singur?

Last updated on: June 13, 2011 14:57 IST

Is it time to move beyond Singur?

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Football is a favourite sport in Kolkata, but no one cheers a self-goal. No one can really object to West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee wishing to deliver on an important election promise, and that too of an emotive issue like Singur, from where her journey to power began.

Even so, it should have been clear to Ms Banerjee and her advisors that the state government cannot issue an ordinance to reclaim land sold to a company when the state legislature was technically still in session and normal administrative procedures had not been followed.

The state government's ordinance reclaiming the entire land at Singur with an intention to hand over a part of it to the farmers was flawed, even if well intentioned.

Less than 24 hours later, she realised her mistake, refrained from notifying the ordinance and instead announced her intention to introduce an appropriate legislative Bill in the Assembly, which will now reconvene a week ahead of schedule.

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That only reconfirms a widely held view that the newly acquired occupancy of the corner room in Writers' Building has made no difference to Ms Banerjee, who continues to display a streak of administrative immaturity in spite of two stints as Union railway minister.

Politically, too, the hurried decision to issue an ordinance did not appear prudent. Quite apart from the embarrassment it caused Ms Banerjee and her supporters, the move has given the Left Front a fresh lease of life - The Left Front was lying low after having suffered its worst electoral reverse last month that ended its 34-year-old rule in the state.

Losing no time to seize the opportunity, a delegation of Left Front leaders met the West Bengal governor on Friday to highlight the procedural improprieties committed by the chief minister.

With Ms Banerjee's retraction, the Left Front is likely to gain in strength as an opposition force in a state where it had virtually written itself off.

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With Ms Banerjee's retraction, the Left Front is likely to gain in strength as an opposition force in a state where it had virtually written itself off.

The lesson that Ms Banerjee should draw from the ordinance issue is that the electoral promises she made on Singur had a limited purpose. Of course, she should take steps to fulfil that promise, whatever the merits of the case.

However, she should also ensure that while fulfilling the promise, her government follows every rule in the statute book.

More importantly, Ms Banerjee should develop a vision beyond Singur that encompasses the whole of West Bengal and the developmental challenge it faces.

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Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
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She can no longer afford to see herself only as a leader of a political party, striving and strategising to retain her popularity among the masses.

As chief minister of West Bengal, she has far more pressing problems to handle - a fiscal mess and industrial stagnation.

The true measure of her contribution as West Bengal's new chief minister will not be whether she can return the Singur land to those farmers, but whether she can attract fresh industrial investment to the state without the kind of land acquisition problems that stymied her predecessor's industrialisation efforts.


Photographs: Reuters
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