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Does Mamata have a useful business plan?

Last updated on: January 17, 2011 15:07 IST

Does Mamata have a useful business plan?

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Sunanda K Datta-Ray

Those who fear that West Bengal will jump from the frying pan into the fire in the coming Assembly election might find a solution of sorts in what is widely denounced as money power.

I don't mean the illicit crores of rupees that candidates and their sponsors are expected to spend on polling.

Nor funds such as rival business houses are said to have lavished on agitators to thwart Tatas in Singur.

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Image: Tapasi Malik's mother looks at her daughter's photograph. Tapasi lost her life during the protest against the Tata Nano factory in Singur.

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But Sushma Swaraj's comment the other day about "corporates" deciding how ministries are formed and which portfolio is given to whom suggests a way out of what might turn into a bloody impasse.

The leader of the Lok Sabha Opposition was speaking disapprovingly and in a different context. But if business houses do choose ministers to further their interests, as she claimed, they can also devise policies that in serving the corporate sector, also serves the community at large.

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Image: BJP leader Sushma Swaraj.

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Business and the public interest need not be irreconcilable. They often seem so only because of clandestine pacts between shortsighted politicians and opportunistic businessmen.

Singapore's prosperity was founded on the profitability of 3,000 multinationals operating under a watchful government's strictly enforced rules.

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Image: Communist party activists.

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It's the regulatory framework that makes all the difference between corporate exploitation and corporate contribution to national prosperity.

Enfeebled throughout the country, that framework just withered away during West Bengal's three decades of Marxist rule.

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Image: Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, chief minister of West Bengal.
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters.
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Does Mamata have a useful business plan?

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Whatever it professed in theory, the CPI(M) was happy to transfer land, licences and institutions to commercial operators who became rich and donated handsomely to the kitty.

It's all very well for Biman Basu, the CPI(M) secretary and Left Front chairman, to thunder accusingly today that "those who didn't have bicycles have built houses and are moving in cars."

He should know better than anyone else that Left Front patronage turned millionaires into billionaires.

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Image: War over land.

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There is sweet irony in Basu's exhortation to these opportunists to gaze in the mirror upon their altered and "blemished face". Nothing has been altered and blemished more drastically by power than the CPI(M).

A party of hope now spells despair. West Bengal's Midnapore district would not otherwise be bristling with rebels.

Adivasis have turned from Christianity to Maoism as the symbol of protest. Peasant voters in former red strongholds march under the Trinamool flag to attack Marxist camps.

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Image: An activist of Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) shouts anti-government slogans.
Photographs: Parth Sanyal/Reuters.
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Does Mamata have a useful business plan?

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This promises to be the dreadful pattern of the future. Even if the CPI(M) loses votes, its armed cadres will not easily relinquish their control of the countryside.

We can expect more pitched battles as Mamata Banerjee and the motley crew of her Trinamool Congress (bloated already by thugs deserting the sinking Marxist ship) try to take charge.

Let there be no mistake, they are largely accidental beneficiaries of public disenchantment with the CPI(M), filling the vacuum left by a virtually defunct Congress. But they don't seem to have two ideas on governance to rub together. No one credits them now with more than the one-point agenda of getting the Marxists out by hook or by crook.

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Image: Mamata Banerjee speaks during a protest rally.
Photographs: Reuters.
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This is where farsighted members of Bengal's business community - and surely they are not all just banias? - must seize their chance. In some ways they gallop faster than the wind.

Five years ago when the Left Front's day seemed to be done, Calcutta's tycoons mustered in strength at a chamber of commerce event publicly to pay homage to Banerjee and giggle obsequiously at her jokes at the late Jyoti Basu's expense.

The wind blew over, and those same businessmen again flocked more recently to an exhibition of paintings by a prominent CPI(M) functionary's ward, cooing ecstatically over the array of canvases.

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Image: The interior of the Tata Motors' plant in Singur.
Photographs: Reuters.
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Does Mamata have a useful business plan?

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Generators of wealth for themselves, they can boost growth and create jobs if only they look beyond sycophancy and profiteering.

West Bengal has a precedent in Nalini Ranjan Sarkar's appointment as finance minister.

That canny old owl, Deng Xiaoping, knew what he was talking about when he urged as many people as possible to become rich so that others could follow their example.

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Image: Supporters of the Tata Nano plant in Singur.
Photographs: Reuters.
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Businessmen need peace and a stable climate to make a profit. Both are possible only if they insist that in return for financial support, the Trinamool adopts policies to encourage economic regeneration. They might even assist in drawing up a plan of action.

Let Banerjee continue with her shrieking rallies, but not at the expense of public order.

She will have a better chance of consolidating her position and earning respect if she is identified in the public mind with a constructive alternative programme.


Image: Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee.
Photographs: Reuters.
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