Friday, May 13, 2011 will go down in history as Bengal’s second Independence Day. A sari-clad unkempt woman single-handedly brought to their knees the mighty communists who ruled the eastern Indian state continuously for 34 years. Mamata Banerjee is now all set to re-paint the red Writer’s Building, the state secretariat, into green, figuratively. The symbol of her party, Trinamool (grassroots) Congress is two green leaves. Banerjee has ignited a fire in people and one can only hope that, in course of time, she meets these hopes and aspirations, or else the same fire may consume her too. What catapulted the communists to power before I was born 33 years ago was their claim to have taken the land from the rich to give to the poor. They held onto power for many years, reminding people about their achievement. What undid the communists was the reverse. Their attempt to take land from the poor to give to rich industrialists punched holes in the red armor that became irreparable. Singur made headlines when an Indian automobile firm tried to set up a factory for the world’s cheapest car on the land of the poor. Similarly Nandigram, another village, also became a flashpoint when the administration tried to capture the land for an Indonesian firm to set up a chemicals hub. In both cases, Banerjee suffered with the poor. The state capital Kolkata burst at its seams because of infrastructure, rising concerns of pollution, unrest within the transportation system and underdeveloped housing schemes. The lame duck leaders distanced themselves from the people. It was a pain when young people like me went out of the state. We envied the “smooth” roads of Gujarat and Haryana and compared them to the potholes that passed for highways in our home state. West Bengal lagged ten years behind New Delhi, the national capital. The communists took their time to introduce compressed natural gas as an eco-friendly fuel. Even after Calcutta High Court directives they failed to provide adequate environment-friendly transportation system. The University of Calcutta, one of the oldest in the country, became the political ground for the communists and their sympathizers. Reeling under an outdated syllabus, the University’s Senate neither recognized the need for an overhaul, nor understood the demand for vocational-based courses. Education in Bengal, once hailed as the best in the country, began to be looked upon as outdated, leading to an exodus of students to other cities. State sponsored healthcare suffered as government hospitals turned down accident, trauma and emergency cases. Private hospitals and nursing homes squeezed the masses as much as possible. As the rot set in, major industries began to pack and leave Bengal. Reason: anti-organizational unions thriving under state-sponsored units gave them nightmares. Some thriving business houses closed down owing to long legal battles, while others choose to shift their head administrative offices to Bangalore. Bengal’s pride, the world famous Darjeeling tea, had to bear the brunt of the unrest caused in the hills, because the arrogant communists would not strike a deal with local powerful leaders. Export of tea from north Bengal to Europe and North America was hit hard and people soon began to find themselves either unemployed or being offered voluntary retirement as smaller plantations began to close down. The Right to Education Bill stipulates compulsory and free education for children up to 14, but thousands of children work in the fields, brick-kilns, factories and many other places. As ports and harbors of Bengal remained desolate, South-East Asia soon found Chennai and Puducherry a better option. Today Bengal is far behind other states in many respects. Hence change is required. People hope they have voted a step is in the right direction. Banerjee and her team have a colossal task ahead of them, primarily living up to the expectations. Shane J Alliew is a quizmaster, presenter of shows, communicator and is involved with research and writing. An ardent social worker, he is a committee member of CAISS. IE14248
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