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Mamata, Touching Investors' Feet is Not the Answer

Published: January 10, 2015 14:28 IST
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(Brinda Karat is a Politburo member of the CPI(M) and a former Member of the Rajya Sabha.)

From holding hands with so-called Maoists to disrupting industrial projects to touching the feet of industrialists to invest in Bengal, Mamata Banerjee has reached new heights in the politics of double speak.  

At the recent industrialists' meet in Bengal, in the face of scepticism, she actually apologized for the past but then realizing the political consequences of such regret, the Chief Minister changed tack, as is her wont and blamed the previous Left Government for the problems regarding industry.

She has much to apologise for. Between 2004-2005 and 2011-2012, West Bengal under the Left regime led the country in the creation of new jobs in manufacturing. According to NSSO Statewise data, in all, 51.3 lakh manufacturing jobs were created in India during that period of which Bengal created 27.4 lakh manufacturing jobs placing the State first, as against Gujarat which was in second place with 9.5 lakh jobs. But the job creation situation has now been reversed to job loss which is why there are not many who would take her words seriously.

In the last three years, around 90 industrial units have shut down in Bengal including jute mills, tea gardens, engineering units and even IT companies, making over one lakh workers jobless. Among the units shut down are Shalimar Paints, Jessop, the well-known firm which had built the second Hooghly bridge under the Left Government, Birla's Hindustan Motors. Dunlop closed down in 2012 and Nokia-Siemens closed down its Kolkata unit. Production in the Haldia Chemical plant was seriously affected last year with a cascading impact on auxiliary units. In fact industrial belts in Bengal whether in the Asansol-Durgapur belt, the Barrackpore area, or in and around Haldia have become a virtual no man's land for industry.

The reasons are not hard to find.

Why should industry invest in a State where extortion and blackmail are constant toxic pollutants and where the police, functioning directly under the Chief Minister, are rewarded for saving ruling party criminals involved in such cases? 

In 2013, there were numerous incidents of clashes between TMC-run syndicates competing in extortionist practices. The TMC MLA in Durgapur wrote to the police against threats being received by small-scale industrialists in the Durgapur industrial area by TMC trade union leaders led by its Vice President. In the same month of July, a well-known steel manufacturer in the Asansol belt complained to the police of TMC leaders demanding a commission.

Last year, the MLA of Singur made headlines with his statement that "Mamata Banerjee is claiming that her party won't be involved in extortion. But party workers are extorting money before my very eyes."

The context is the violence unleashed by the TMC under the patronage of its top leaders on its political opponents using the services of goondas. If the Chief Minister openly defends an MP who threatens to get women of the CPI(M) raped by his goondas, the message sent out is pretty unambiguous-anything goes so long as TMC hegemony is established. But once the genie of criminalisation of politics is unleashed, it does not end there, and the license to violence against political opponents is also used as a license for self-aggrandizement through corruption and extortion. Industry is an easily identifiable target by the syndicates run by the ruling regime.

This is hardly a conducive environment for investment.

Secondly, the Chief Minister's double standards as far as making land available to industry is concerned was reflected in her plea to industry to buy the land themselves which will be "facilitated" by the Government. She says her Government cannot do it directly due to "political compulsions." Everyone knows her political compulsions are of her own making. This is an open invitation to land dealers and middlemen under TMC patronage to get land from peasants. If there is extortion in industrial areas, one can imagine what will happen in rural areas where TMC gangs, in the name of "facilitation", will ride roughshod over the right of farmers  to consent to sell or not sell their land. In fact, in Singur over 90 per cent of farmers had given their consent to sell their land for the Nano plant. But Mamata's "political compulsions" helped Gujarat to get the car plant and the Singur farmers to suffer.

Another critical aspect is that of industrial relations. Bengal's Finance Minister boasted that  the state had seen the lowest number of man days lost in industrial actions. In fact, the refusal of Government to intervene in cases of injustice to workers led to industrial unrest in the two major industries of tea and jute. Strong unity among trade unions regardless of political affiliations culminated in successful industrial actions. The Mamata Government has displayed aggressive hostility to genuine trade union movements. She has openly threatened workers with stringent punishment if they go on legally-sanctioned actions. Instead, she has backed her own party men in their violent assaults on workers in trade unions opposed to her Government. On such a basis of contempt and hostility for workers' rights, industrial development can never be sustained.

The Government and ruling party leaders are in the eye of the Saradha storm with the investigations by the Enforcement Directorate as well as the court-ordered CBI investigation closing in on one top leader of the TMC after another. In the light of statements made by jailed TMC leaders, the demand for the interrogation of the Chief Minister has gained momentum. Bengal is abuzz with the speculation of where the buck will stop.

Investor summits for Bengal have seen many venues under the TMC shift from Kolkata to Mumbai to Singapore and back to Kolkata. But it will need much more than a change of venue and the touching of corporate feet to bring jobs back to Bengal.

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