Jayanta Ghosal, Indo-Asian News Service
Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee leads a protest against the alleged gang rape and murder of a 19-year-old girl in Uttar Pradesh in Kolkata on October 3. File/Agence France-Presse
This story is from about 20 years ago! A person from Kolkata came to visit our office in Delhi. He got my address from somewhere, had hopped onto the Kalka Mail and come to meet me. He was only 22-years-old. What was the purpose of his visit? Just to get a job.
I didn’t know him. He was quite frantic. He said to me: I know only you can help me with a job. I asked him: How are you so sure that I can help you get a job? He said: I know you’re a reporter and journalists can do everything. I said, Alright! What kind of a job are you looking for? A Government job, he said, adding: Since I am young I will get one. I asked him why a government job?
He said: I need a Government job for three reasons. Firstly, soon after my retirement I’ll get a pension. Secondly, unless there is a huge theft, I won’t lose my job and thirdly, I don’t have to work in this job. As soon as my working hours end or, rather, a few minutes before that, I can leave the office to attend my drama rehearsals and later I can go to the club to play carrom.
Listening to him that day, I was upset that a 22-year-old, who had not even begun to work, was thinking about a pension, thinking about getting a job where he didn’t have to work. I wondered whether this was in our Bengali DNA? Bengalis love politics, and it appears as if every tea stall in each locality is nothing but a mini Parliament. All know-it-alls, the ‘Chandimandap’ from the film ‘Ashani Sanket’. Is it not yet the time for the work culture to change? Are we still busy with political intrigue and wasting our lives? Will politics become our source of income?
After Mamata Banerjee came to power as Chief Minister by defeating the CPI(M), she had attended a meeting at Calcutta Club where she had said that she knew many had misunderstood her in the context of the Singur agitation. She said she didn’t have an option because her priority was to protect the rights of the farmers. But that didn’t mean she didn’t want industry in Bengal, or that she didn’t want development in Bengal. “I want both development and industry but I need your help,” she had said.
Listening to Mamata Banerjee’s speech, our editor wanted me to ask the Chief Minister about her plans for industry in the state and that an interview could be scheduled on the subject. I spoke to her. Mamata Banerjee replied firmly: I want development not dispute. I want a healthy relationship between the Centre and the State. This was displayed as an eight-column lead interview in the newspaper.
Early in the morning, I received a phone call from the CPI(M) leader of that time Nirupam Sen, the former Minister of Industries in the state. He said, “Best of luck. Mamata and industry! If you can do it, I’ll be happy.” I replied that the issue was not about me doing it. The Chief Minister had stated that she wanted development. I asked, “Will you be putting your hands forward to help or will you continue with the politics of opposition as the opposition party?”
Many years have passed since. For the sake of Bengal, for the sake of Bengal’s economy, isn’t development the top priority? There have been elections earlier, there are elections now and there will be elections in future. There was a time when I witnessed the Congress as the ruling party and the CPI(M) in opposition: Congress vs CPI(M). Then, the CPI(M) came to power and the Congress became the opposition: from CPI(M) vs Congress it became CPI(M) vs Trinamool Congress. And now it’s Trinamool Congress vs BJP. Where was BJP? In Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s state, West Bengal, what had been the position of this party? If there is a ruling party, there will be an opposition too. Any one of the opposition parties will take the place of the ruling party. Today the range is captured by the BJP. Once again, an election is knocking at the door.
This ‘BJP vs Trinamool Congress’ situation won’t go away but will rather get magnified. For this, shall we keep Centre-State relations in a state of flux? Or will it be the right thing to move ahead on Centre-State relations in a healthy way? What the Trinamool Congress has done in the past against the Centre or what it hasn’t, is that the main question at the moment? Or keeping aside the disagreement, is it expected of us in this situation to wish for the state to move towards development?
In the World-Bengal conference in Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee had invited the late Finance Minister Arun Jaitley apart from Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari and Suresh Prabhu. All these Central ministers turned up in Bengal to attend the conference.
Several industrialists had attended the dinner at the conference — industrialists like Sanjiv Goenka and Harsh Neotia. No one attacked one another to take political advantage. That was because the issue was development, an attempt at the growth of the state. When Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, he told me in an interview that if in a human body blood starts to clot in the heart, it won’t be possible for the person to survive. It is necessary for the blood to be distributed all over the body. That I will work as head of the Centre in Delhi, far away from the states without any relation to them, and I will be fighting with them — this cannot happen. Blood should be distributed all over the states, only then will it be possible for people to survive.
Unfortunately today, somehow, we are forgetting his words in the dust storm of trickery of votes. Why should the state not receive its share of GST collections? Raising this question is not politics. Arun Jaitley had said that the state will receive the money. This is the liability of the Centre. The Centre is saying that it has no money and the state must take the amount as loan. The Centre will arrange for the loan and the state has to repay the amount. This is a mere disagreement but is not quarrelling. Reformist economist and Editor Swaminathan Aiyar said that the Centre must provide the money to the state. If no such arrangements have been made, the nation’s economy will be affected. This is a debate: various opinions can be presented regarding this. But within the debate is involved a matter related to development.
Let there be ideological differences and political opposition. But the Centre must not deprive a state of what is its right. The Centre, through their hypothesis, is trying to achieve victory of the BJP programme, and the state through its programme is seeking success for the state. It would be better if the state is given its right by the Centre and help on the issue of development in the spirit of collaboration. It is necessary to understand the people of West Bengal, behind this development lies the future of the next generation. Today, development should be the top priority for the Bengali. The next generation of Bengalis should no longer think like the youngster who met me twenty years ago.