by Jay Sanyal
Mainstream media news from West Bengal is depressing to say the least: continuous political sniping if not fighting among the major political formations, death of a student in political custody, policemen getting shot while on duty, ministers getting manhandled while attending Planning Commission meeting and subsequent fall-out resulting in clashes all over the state.
Media coverage for the last 20 months of the new regime has been like the above. It would seem for anyone reading these news that the state has ‘gone to the dogs’ and any sense of hope that the residents of the state had of improved life and well-being under the new dispensation is totally lost and there seems to be an underlying clamor to get the old regime back to bring about sense of sanity.
However there seems to be some other sets of information that have also come across regarding West Bengal—state GDP growth of 7.6 percent for 2012-13 that is nearly 50 percent higher than the national average, following up on a similar higher growth than national GDP growth rates in 2011-12 also.
State tax collections that have ballooned by 60 percent in less than 2 years and if budgetary estimates for 2013-14 are to be believed will be 100 percent higher than what the state had achieved in the last year (2010-11) of the previous regime. Non-plan expenditure in 2012-13 has come down to 80 percent of state and central revenue receipts from 110 percent in the last year of the previous regime.
The above clearly suggests that in spite of a whole range of handouts to the “undeserving”, cultural programs aplenty by the state’s mercurial Chief Minister and lack of headline investment that the media seems to be screaming about, the state’s fiscal management seems now on a much stronger wicket than before.
On the Centre’s much touted rural employment guarantee scheme, West Bengal, which used to languish at the bottom of the state rankings couple of years back, is now at the top in creating man-days of employment for rural poor. In the case of building village roads under another central scheme, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojna (PMGSY), the state has created record by initiating building of 12,000 km of village road in a single year, a record that no other state has been able to match.
The State where central assistance at the end of each year used to go back is now, in certain sectors, getting additional grant after being able to provide requisite utilization certificate of the allocated money. Mandays lost due to lock-outs and strikes have come down to significantly.
West Bengal’s power utility is ranked only after the Gujarat for financial stability, Media, which feeds on negative news, does not bother to highlight the positive ones, especially when they impact those at the bottom of the pyramid.
While the struggle in Nandigram was panned by the media as a step backward in our collective path to progress, what has not been highlighted is the crores invested post the struggle in fisheries business there that has employed thousands of citizens, not only locally but also from nearby states such as Orissa. Of course these down-to-earth investments do not make significant headline news!
Mainstream media in India has in its rush to make money have pandered to the “us versus them” divide, rather than focusing on the real news. “Us”, the soft spoken, English educated folks who have made it in life based on the dint of hard work and aspire for our country to reach the status of US and other evolved western economies, while “them”, the rough and hewn of the land whose subsistence is based on government handouts and our benevolence and who only place obstacles on our path to progress.
Thus Mamata Banerjee who is part of “them” is panned at every stage by the media for every single gaffe (and she has provided enough of them). She the unsophisticated, brash, ill-spoken woman who has taken the seat of power that deservedly should be ours. How come she stops our Prime Minister from signing the Teesta water treaty, even though the flow of water envisaged to be shared between two countries does not really flow anymore in that river. How dare she stop the FDI in retail which has led to zero dollars of FDI flow in the country so far?
How come she stops the nuclear power plant from being built in Haripur, even though none of us would like similar plant to be built near our home? So let us highlight every single mistake, broadcast rapes and robberies as if they are new events in the state of West Bengal and which did not exist before the new regime came on board and ensure that people start feeling negatively about the state and its new government.
Mamata Banerjee is no saint. However she is not the sinner that she is made out to be. It is thanks to her that there is a semblance of peace in Junglemahal and that political activity has kick-started in Darjeeling. This has been done even when our brilliant and highly educated Prime Minister, Home Minister and Chief Ministers of other states have failed to stop similar issues of Maoists violence or separation problems in Telengana.
The political party she leads is unruly, but be glad about that. She is quickly realizing that it will not be possible for her to rule all the apparatus of governance and life in West Bengal through her party structure like the previous regime. Thus she is trying to step back—stopping student elections in academic institutions, stopping unions from managing taxi-booths are two examples.
These are small steps, but steps that have long-term ramifications that can only be positive for the state of West Bengal and its people as the political party steps back from all sphere of public life and start to hand it over to administrators who should actually get things done. However for all the success she has or will have, Mamata Banerjee’s governance will ultimately be judged in the number of jobs it is able to create in organized sectors of state economy and the earlier she gets this simple truth the better it is for her and the state.
West Bengal is a complicated and difficult state to rule, with its people having a sense of misplaced greatness that has long passed them. Its government machinery is in shambles, infested with corrupt and lazy party workers of different hues. Its people long used to government handouts and bailouts have shunned activities that generate capital, focusing on those that generate hot air over its endless sessions of adda. It has no ready-made fix. However a start is being made.
The government efforts, political or otherwise, is directed at the bottom of the pyramid where the need is greater. Like many others, I do not agree on the lack of focus on bringing in investments, and would love to have a government that is not bent on creating negative news every day by action or words. However time needs to be given, positives need to be appreciated and highlighted and negatives need to be pointed out. Instead of tarring everything by a broad brush of negative paint, the media needs to balanced in its coverage.