In all fairness, despite the wounds of partition, in the initial years of independent India, West Bengal fared exceptionally well and was recognized as one of the most industrialized states of the country. In fact, till the mid 60s, it was the second most industrialized state in terms of development and even surpassed the state of Bombay, that is, Maharashtra and Gujarat combined, in terms of the number of factories and rate of employment.
However, in the last two decades, the state not only lost its glorious recognition but also its share in the all-India net value, due to drastic downfall of factories and employment. Total Factor Productivity of six industry groups, which played a prominent role in the state’s economic-success story in the early 1960s, worsened in a couple of years; there were no new industry groups to take up the position of these industries, which have been performing poorly.
In the case of manufacturing sector, the state’s share in NSDP went down from 25 percent in 1960-61 to 10 percent in 1999-2000. The declining share of the manufacturing sector in an all-India NDP explains the drastic decline in the state’s stronghold industrial status. States like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra and Himachal Pradesh were fast developing while West Bengal was struggling.
During the same period, Gujarat experienced calamities like earthquakes, floods and riots. Narendra Modi’s government carried out rehabilitation operations on a war footing and the state recovered from the impact of the natural calamities in no time. The UN recognized Modi’s efforts and awarded the Gujarat government for its outstanding work in disaster management.
But, due to the propaganda around the 2002 riots, 100 CII members threatened to quit, leaving Deepak Parekh, NR Narayanmurthy, Azim Premji etc. to publicly express their loss of faith in the Gujarat government. However, in a few years, Narendra Modi turned the tables by creating the state’s investor-friendly economic development model. Thus, he put an end to the red tape culture, making his government responsive and transparent.
What caused Bengal’s downfall? The answer lies in the rise of the Left-front and the perceived “pro-poor” politics. The Communists raised a hue and cry when, for instance, tramway fares were raised by one paisa; where the Left-leaning students and labour unions joined the protest. Trams were torched and eventually, the tram company went bankrupt.
However, the Communists did a reversal in the final years of their reign and adopted a brute capitalist approach. The state government invited Tata Motors to set up a plant at Singur, and Indonesia-based Salim Group to set up a chemical hub at Nandigram, for which farm land was forcibly acquired using the colonial Land Acquisition Act 1894.
As expected, the locals protested as they were mostly dependent on agriculture and their livelihood was severely affected. But, that didn’t deter the Left-front government, which resorted to brutal crackdown, and as a result, several poor people were killed. The Communists lost in 2011, and the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), the main opposition party, reaped the electoral dividends while the people of Bengal were the real losers.
Even after a change of government in 2011, there was no change on the industrial front. In terms of project implementation, according to the West Bengal Economic Review 2012-13, there was a fall of about 85 percent compared to the previous year and 97 percent compared to 2010, the last year of the Communist government. By 2013, big industries began losing faith since there was no budgetary push to boost Bengal’s Industrial sector.
One of the biggest barriers to industrialization in the state has been the scarcity of land, which is primarily due to the Urban Land Ceiling and Regulation Act of 1976, which the TMC government refused to repeal. Even till this day, the state’s land acquisition policy continues to be a stumbling block for projects that require large areas of land.
Moreover, labour unrest continued to plague the state, which recorded the highest number of lockouts. In 2014, the state’s flagship project, Haldia Petrochemicals and India’s oldest car maker, Hindustan Motors were forced to shut down. Jute sector, the state’s second highest employment generating industry, also suffered heavy losses and about 100,000 of its workers lost their jobs due to the lockouts.
Due to land and labour issues, most sectors are on a downward roll; job creation in the state has been consistently sluggish and people have been leaving the state for employment and better opportunities. Those who stay back, with the hopes of finding an alternative source of income, often fall prey to quick-rich schemes and lose all their savings, Sharada and Rose Valley chit fund scams being prime examples. Because of such schemes in the last few years, over 80 people have committed suicide.
However, it is not that nobody benefitted from the Ponzi schemes. Many, associated with the ruling “pro-poor” party, have made millions by promoting them. Moreover, everybody doesn’t face problems because of the scarcity of land, as close links with the ruling party make it easy to acquire it. It is a different matter that in one rare instance, TMC leader Lankeswar Ghosh and 10 others were sentenced to death, for killing a poor woman in Ghugragachhi village in an attempted land grab case.
On the other hand, in Sanand, Gujarat, where Tata Motors was allotted land to set up its plant, poor farmers literally became billionaires overnight. Owing to the Gujarat government’s land acquisition policy, they received a large compensation for their land. About 200 big and small companies have now set up units in that area.
However, most of the villagers decided to invest the money and take up jobs in the factorie. They work to keep themselves productively engaged rather than earn money. The state’s “quick-rich scheme” benefitted the poor farmers, wherever land had been acquired by the government.
No wonder, the Supreme Court felt compelled to praise the Gujarat government. The apex court, while hearing petitions filed by UP farmers, called the Colonial Land Acquisition Act a “fraud”, and condemning the “forcible acquisition” policy adopted by some states, thereby advised all other states to learn from Gujarat.
There are many things that Bengal can learn from Gujarat, especially for reviving its industrial sector; some are listed by the World Bank in its ease of preparing the business index. The eight specified parameters, given by the World Bank include setting up of business, allotment of land, labour reforms, procedure for environmental clearance, infrastructure, procedure for registration for tax purposes and inspections for compliance of various norms.
In its 2015 Business Index report, West Bengal occupied the eleventh slot while Gujarat topped the ranking. In an interview, Government of India’s Chief Economic Advisor, Arvind Subramanian stated that the root cause of West Bengal’s problems is not the legacy of the huge debt burden but it is with determinants of growth like state capacity, developmental expenditure, capital expenditure that doing business is not easy.
In case of Gujarat, things are better and one of the reasons is that the government is pro-growth, which is also why, doing business is easy. It is evident from the fact that when states like Maharashtra and Karnataka were trying to lure Tata after the infamous Singur fiasco, the company chose Gujarat to set up its automobile plant. On one occasion, Tata remarked, “Usually, a state takes 90 to 180 days for land and other clearances. Gujarat took just three days. It has never happened before.”
It is a common understanding that growth is directly related to employment opportunities; which is why, even though West Bengal has the highest number of people registered with employment exchanges, its placement records has been miserable. Whereas, Gujarat has been rated as the top state for providing jobs through employment exchanges; according to EES-2013 report, Gujarat has provided 57.53 percent of the jobs in the country through employment exchanges.
However, placements through employment exchanges are only a part of the real scenario, as most job seekers approach the employers directly, bypassing the employment exchanges. The millionaires promoting ‘quick-rich schemes’ in Bengal and the billionaires working in factories in Gujarat are noteworthy examples of this trend. Business has never been a priority in “pro poor” politics which is why, in just three years, between 2010 and 2013, Bengal witnessed 97 percent decline in industries.
However, the Bengal government was also never really concerned about the poor as it was about politics, as even on implementation of the Twenty-Point Programme, which was meant to improve the living standards of the poor and down-trodden sections of the society, West Bengal was among the worst performers and Gujarat, yet again, topped the ranking.
Maybe, there would be consensus that one of the basic necessities in present times is electricity, whether it is to facilitate industrialization or to improve the living standards of the poor. But in power sector, nothings seems to have changed in Bengal. Memories of the dark days of 1970s came back to haunt people in 2003, when several units of Kolaghat, Bandel, Santhaldih and Bakreswar power plants stopped operations. It was said, the fault happened due to poor quality of coal and adverse ratio in peak to off-peak demand. But there has been a consistency in the frequency of power cuts, which was maintained even after the change in government.
Though in June 2014, Mamata Bannerjee had claimed that the state enjoyed uninterrupted power supply, the fact is, Bengal’s power plants were not able to meet the restricted 550MW demand because of its frequent breakdowns. Besides, maintenance of power plants has always been neglected.
In the past, long power cuts usually occurred only during summer, but now, it happens all year round. In January 2015, Kolkata and other towns experienced several hours of power cuts every day. As a result, industrial production was severely impaired and many units were shut down. It also affected agriculture as power-driven tube wells and river lift pumps were hit by frequent interruptions.
In contrast, in Gujarat, Narendra Modi’s government ensured round-the-clock power supply even to villages. The state produces about 14,000MW, which is more than its demand, which leaves about 2,000MW as surplus.
Once, the Gujarat Electricity Board had no funds to add generation capacity on its own and its transmission and distribution losses were more than 35 percent . In 2000-01, the GEB had incurred a loss of Rs 2,246 crore with the revenue of Rs 6,280 crore. Modi’s government took several steps so that GEB could start saving; they renegotiated power purchase agreements that were signed with private players earlier and plugged the leakages in distribution.
In 2012-13, the erstwhile GEB and now Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam Ltd registered a profit of four crores with the revenue of Rs 29,340 crore. Interestingly, electricity tariffs in Bengal are higher than Gujarat. Though, compared with some states like J&K, power tariffs in Gujarat may be higher, where venturing firms are not concerned about paying a little more if the state provides uninterrupted power supply. This illustrates how power is related to growth.
One more fact worth noting is that there is a significant difference in per capita consumption of electricity; it is 564kwh in Bengal and 1663kwh in Gujarat (as per planning commission records of 2011-12). This reflects the difference in standard of living of the people of Bengal and Gujarat. Bengal’s “pro poor” politics may have ensured that people of the state enjoyed cheap tram fares, but the same ‘cheap” politics is also the reason for their poor living conditions.
It is not that only economic growth or standard of living that has been a casualty; Bengal government has failed to even provide security to people of the state, rather, often appeared to be reluctant to prevent crimes, especially the crimes against women.
It is understandable why the communist government was reluctant to prevent Bijon Setu massacre, Sainbari killings, Nanoor massacre, Singur, Nandigram massacre, etc. But it is beyond comprehension why the left front regime was so callous towards instances of crimes even against a government officer; for example, the Bantala rape case, in which, a woman health officer was raped and a burning metal torch was inserted in her vagina; the act was so gruesome that one doctor, while examining the dead body, fainted.
However, in response to queries regarding this incident, Jyoti Basu said, “Such things happen.” It is possible that the veteran communist leader has seen “such things”, given the party’s track record. Nevertheless, his remark as the Chief Minister of the state exposed an insensitivity and the lack of responsibility towards such issues.
Some might have thought, a woman Chief Minister would be more concerned about women’s safety. But Mamata Banerjee didn’t take long to prove them wrong. In 2011, West Bengal recorded 29,133 incidents of crime against women. In 2012, the figure went up to 39,942, and the state recorded the highest incidents of crime against women for the second year successively. By 2014, the numbers and Bengal’s position dropped a little, when UP topped the list, with 38,467 cases and West Bengal, in second spot, registered 38,299 cases. Yet, for women, the state continues to be among the least safe places, and in the interim, Gujarat emerged as one of the most secure states in the Female Security Index and topped the list on the NDTV Hansa survey.
It is easy to understand the reason for this extreme variation between situations regarding women’s safety in the two states from the difference of approach of the two Chief Ministers and their respective governments towards crimes against women.
In the Park Street rape case, Mamata Banerjee made remarks maligning the victim’s character and termed the incident a “concocted story.” In Kamduni rape case, she referred to those seeking justice as CPM goons and Maoists. In both the cases, the CM showed no traits of being sensitive as a woman; rather, she showed absolute lack of empathy and tried to give it a political spin in an attempt to evade responsibility.
In contrast, Narendra Modi never made any remark regarding crimes against women, even against political rivals when he had the opportunity. In December 2012, when people were agitating against the Congress government for the frequent rape cases, particularly the Nirbhaya rape case, and the then Gujarat CM had visited Delhi and was repeatedly prodded by journalists to speak on the incident, he refused to comment. It was easy for him to score some political points using the opportunity and compare and boast about his government’s record on women’s safety, but unlike any other politician, he refrained from exploiting the situation and showed utmost sensitivity.
In West Bengal, especially in regions where there has been an increase in population because of influx of illegal immigrants, young girls have been routinely abducted, raped, killed, converted and married off or sold as sex slaves, sometimes even outside the country. But instead of using state machinery to stop these incidents, TMC government has used all its means to suppress the fact. In the Jamuria rape case, the state government used police force to stop the BJP MP, Babul Supriyo, from entering his own constituency and meeting the victim’s family on the pretext that it could create communal tension, as the rapist was from a particular community.
Ironically, Left and TMC were at the forefront in blaming the Central government and Hindu organizations for the Ranaghat nun rape case; but when it was found that the rapist was an illegal immigrant, the case was forgotten in an instant. This has been the state’s policy; Bengal government appears to be least bothered about crimes against women, especially when victims are from one community, and goes all out to cover-up when it involves a particular community.
In some cases, local activists have been able to rescue a few girls; Tuktuki Mondol is a case in point wherein the local administration and the cops tried to bury the case of abduction, rape and conversion and colluded with the accused, Salim, who is also associated with the ruling party and belongs to a particular community. It was because of a local group Hindu Samhiti, a case was filed in the Calcutta High Court, which ordered the cops to produce Tuktuki Mondol in the court, and forced the government to act. But even with an egg on its face, the TMC tried to save the accused using its state machinery by coercing the girl to make a statement that she was physically abused by her father; called the social media campaign a hoax and the BJP’s protest a mere political stunt.
On the other hand, Narendra Modi has been slandered for being too concerned about women’s safety and using state machinery to ensure it. His political rivals termed it “snoopgate”. The case fell flat in the court as the judges found the allegations scurrilous. But Narendra Modi never said anything on this issue even to defend himself or against his political rivals for failing to respect a woman’s right to privacy and dignity.
But then, what about communal incidents? It is often claimed that people of Bengal are secular and the state has been free of communal riots. However, of all the political killings and massacres, the target has been mostly one community; and the fact that in most cases, the state government has showed unwillingness to bring the culprits to the court, tells a lot about the links of those involved.
Left Front’s commitment towards secular ideology can be gauged from its approach towards Muslim infiltrators, who were given ration cards, citizenship and all assistance for settlement, and Hindu refugees, who were persecuted by cutting off the supply of drinking water and food items, and later, shot and killed, to stop them from settling.
At an Indian Chamber of Commerce event, Jyoti Basu proudly proclaimed that many Muslims who earlier went to Bangladesh came back because of the Left Front government and it was an example of secularism; Marichjhapi Massacre was also an example of the same “secular” governance model.
In 34 years of the Communist regime, such massacres and target killings were a routine affair, which, unlike Gujarat 2002 riots, were neither publicized nor probed. This was one of the reasons why the Left Front was able to rule for so long; and things didn’t change much even under the new regime.
Though Mamata Banerjee initiated investigations in some of the old cases, she seems to have forgotten about 2010 Deganga riots, maybe because, a TMC MLA, Haji Nurul Islam was the main accused; and for the same reason, she has also shown reluctance to prevent and probe other incidents, e.g., 2013 Canning riots, 2015 Usthi riots, and 2015 Nadia riots, in which, local TMC leaders MP Ahmed Hasan Imran, Minority Welfare Minister Giyasuddin Molla, and MLA Nasiruddin Ahmed are the key suspects.
In case of 2016 Malda riots also, although no TMC leader is accused, the state government has shown the same laxity. Of those few arrested, clearly all were easily let off on accounts of lenient charges. One noteworthy factor common in all these cases is that the perpetrators were from a particular community and the victims were from another community. Yet, the CM and others in the government have vehemently denied any communal angle in most cases and at the same time, blamed the opposition for playing communal politics.
Like the murder of DCP Vinod Mehta, in Left Front’s regime and the murder of Sub Inspector Tapas Choudhury, the attack on Kaliachak Police Station proved that even the cops are not safe in the state. Idris Ali, Sheikh Subhan, TMC Councilor Mohammed Iqbal or the mob, apparently, had no fear of the law enforcement agencies because of the political patronage given to criminals, especially, from a particular community.
Moreover, several incidents of bomb blasts have been reported in the state over the last few years. Though most of these incidents happened while making crude bombs, the frequent recurrence of such cases shows that the government is averse in taking steps to curb the menace. Considering that these incidents mostly take place in the border regions, it is easy to understand the links with illegal immigrants. Incidentally, in 2005, Intel report had revealed Bangladesh radicals’ long term plan to use West Bengal as a launching pad to spread their operations. In 2008 again, the Intelligence Bureau issued an alert about presence of Jamaat terrorists, feared to have sneaked in through the porous border and holed up in Kooch-Bihar area.
Unfortunately, the Left Front government ignored these terror alerts and the TMC government went a step ahead. Once, Mamata Banerjee tried to raise the issue of illegal immigrants in the parliament, and resorted to her usual theatrics and threw papers at the Speaker when she wasn’t allowed. But a decade later, when Narendra Modi talked about deporting the illegal immigrants, she threatened him and called it divisive politics. Even when two Jamaat operatives were killed while making bombs in Burdwan blasts and one Bangladeshi national was arrested for his role in the blasts, the State government refused to mend its ways. It is often said, Bengal is sitting on a ticking time bomb. In view of the booming bomb making industry, it looks real.
Gujarat too witnessed frequent riots from 1969 onwards, but the state has been riot-free for over a decade since March 2002, and one of the reasons it has witnessed unprecedented peace and prosperity is that Gujarat government accorded top priority to law and order and dealt with the rioters in an unprecedented manner. Unlike the Left Front and TMC government in West Bengal, Narendra Modi’s government did everything possible to prevent the 2002 riots; 827 preventive arrests were made, and shoot at sight orders were issued even before the riots broke out; entire police force of 70,000 was deployed along with RAF and State Reserve Police; although, the forces later proved to be woefully inadequate. The next day when the riots started, the CM frantically called for the Army and asked for the police from three neighboring congress ruled states.
Even then, Narendra Modi took moral responsibility as the Chief Minister and although he was himself accused for the riots, he never interfered in the judicial system and allowed impartial investigations. Unlike any other riot case in India’s history, those responsible for Gujarat 2002 riots were tried and prosecuted.
In 2015, riots erupted again in parts of Gujarat; curfew was imposed and the police resorted to tear gas shelling and firing to bring the situation under control; later, the Army was called in; the accused was arrested and booked under stringent charges, which, the opposition parties claimed, were too harsh.
Gujarat govt. was also criticized for taking a tough stand against terrorism. But Narendra Modi might have thought, criticism doesn’t hurt and it is better than to tolerate terror. That’s why, unlike West Bengal, there is no bomb making industry and terrorists entering Gujarat from Pakistan or other states, like Amjad Ali Rana, Zeeshan Johar, Javed Sheikh and Ishrat Jahan, have been neutralized before they could carry out any attack.
It is strange that the cause of lives lost in Bengal due to political killings, massacres, crimes against women and frequent bomb blasts is never evaluated, whereas, inthe case of Gujarat, it is always blamed on the government. Maybe, on account of Bengal’s ‘cheap’ politics, a human life is considered too cheap, and in Gujarat it is valued because of the government.