Miles to go ...
“The times, they are a-changing”. Even before the exit polls had shown the unmistakable trends, the writing on the wall was clear. The people of West Bengal were ready to give the ruling CPI(M) the boot. The party that had, by hooks or by crook, proved all notions of anti-incumbency wrong, finally had destiny catch up with it.
Even more than a victory for the nation’s stormy petrel Ms. Mamata Banerjee, the mandate will be an overwhelming negative one against the ruling Marxists, who have been blamed for everything – from non performance to nepotism, to unleashing terror on opponents through armed cadres, to systematically destroying the states institutions – be that in the field of education or that in the field of industry. In the end, it was more a slap on the false pride and high handed ways of the CPI(M) than an acceptance of positive promises of change as put forward by the opposition.
And this is exactly what is scaring many a lover of the state – especially in its industrial circles. Since the blood stained days of the seventies, the state has witnessed only the negative. Capital has taken the flight. The best brains have migrated. Once throbbing industrial sectors have withered and died. No new investment worth its name has come to the state, and the lack of industrial activity has added to the multiplier – of unemployment, poverty, economic stagnation and desperation.
Another thing happened over the last three decades and half – a class of businessmen, close to the ruling elite emerged. A class of traders, who became “self styled” industrialists. One group for example, started by trading in scrap and went on to become sponge iron manufacturers, making supernormal profits under political patronage. The illicit coal trade, controlled by the party provided them with the fuel at a fraction of the market price and the political cover sheltered them from the pollution control officials allowing them to wreck havoc to the environment as they laughed all the way to the bank. The same status quo also gave rise to the dreaded land Mafia who minted millions by bending and breaking laws with impunity.
But these are the small fries. In order to usher in an era of economic progress that will see Bengal wrest its lost glory as an economically advanced state in the forefront of development, she will have to attract the industry back. And for doing this, there can be no better time than now.
The iron and steel industry as we all know is quietly ambling back to its natural habitat. And West Bengal, with its rich legacy in steel making, abundantly available raw material from the neighboring states, skilled manpower, port and its vast hinterland is going to be the ideal location, bang at the heart of the steel belt. The only contentious issue, as I see it, will be the availability of land. Something ,that can be addressed, only by a willing Government, with a popular mandate – and as indications are, Mamata Banerjee is going to fit the bill as a duck takes to water.
One has to keep in mind that fact that the issue of land acquisition is a very sensitive one and the view that we normally take, ensconced in our air-conditioned city comforts, is often far removed from the ground realities. The biggest example is Singur – while we in the city lamented the flight of the Nano, successive elections have shown that an overwhelming part of Bengal thought otherwise. This feeling of the masses will have to be honored as the government goes about acquiring land for the industry. One also has to keep in mind the fact that Bengal is not Gujarat, where barren, fallow land is in abundance for the industry to move in as opposed to almost all available land being of the multiple crop type. Thus, the “right” compensation package has to be worked out and those surrendering their lands will have to be included in the process of development so that its fruits may trickle down to the lowest wrungs.
Speaking of Gujarat, there is another point that needs a mention. One of the biggest problems of the industrial sector here is the abject lack of son of soil entrepreneurs. The cadre raj has systematically destroyed the backbone of the local industrialists, save and except those up country mavericks and mercenaries who owed allegiance to it. We do not have an Adani, leave alone an Ambani who will also bear the state’s interest in mind while stepping on the economic accelerator. Yes, it will not be possible to have an army of local industrialists in the fray overnight, but a beginning has to be made, steps in this direction needs to be taken immediately.
Good governance, single minded devotion to the socio-economic development of the state and a fear-free, corruption less administration. The industry asks no more to locate itself in a state and if West Bengal can offer this modicum, then with all the natural advantages she has, can become one of the most attractive states to invest in and do business.
“But, what about the work culture” asks friends from other parts of the nation? Bengal seems to be in a perpetual lethargic slumber, eternally at denial, unwilling to pick up the gauntlets that fate throws towards her. Well, I for one will not agree, given a chance, we too can burn the candle on both ends. Workers from Bengal are some of the most efficient as we have seen in other parts of the world and here too, with the proper environment and the right incentives, we can and I am sure we will, prove our skeptics wrong.
Your Move Didi. Godspeed.