Saturday, May 14, 2011

HISTORIC THUNDER http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110514/jsp/frontpage/story_13981993.jsp

HISTORIC THUNDER

HISTORIC THUNDER

Friday afternoon, Mamata Banerjee's long march to "liberate" Bengal from the world's longest democratically elected communist rule ended in a green revolution that was reminiscent of the revolutions — velvet, orange, rose, et al — that once felled the Berlin Wall and one communist regime in eastern Europe after another.

The big difference is this: none of those revolutions, except perhaps the one led by Lech Walesa's Solidarity in Poland, was the making of a single leader the way the one in Calcutta has been Mamata's very own.

It was in the making for several years, but the way it gathered momentum in the last few weeks was nothing short of a blitzkrieg that knocked the supposedly mighty edifice of the CPM down without the party leaders having a clue to what was about to hit them.

She began her campaign to end the CPM's rule with the slogan: "Now's the time" — that became the call to action in Prague's Velvet Revolution. It proved illusory in 2001 but it has happened now.

But the slogan will take on a completely different meaning now. From now onwards, her years of street fight will be yesterday's story. Both for Bengal and for Mamata, the story that unfolds from this morning has to be about her vision and work to create a tomorrow. It is not the ordinary change of government that comes and goes with every election, changing little in people's lives.

For everything that she plans to do, she may have to undo plenty of things. The historic turnabout of the traditionally Leftist Bengal to her side is clear evidence that she has to reverse many of the supposedly irreversible legacies that have led to Bengal's economic and social decline.

The support she now has can no longer be attributed to just the negative vote against the Left. That may have been the case for a long time in her political career. But her huge victory this time suggests that, apart from wanting the CPM to go, the people also have great expectations from her.

Many of these expectations are about undoing things that made the people so angry with the CPM and so despairing of Bengal under it. Before she does anything to bring industries to Bengal, create jobs or dismantle the unconstitutional and illegal power structures created by the CPM, the people would like her to end the tyrannical "party society" that had its stranglehold on every aspect of the common people's lives everywhere in Bengal. The breaking of the party society would make the people breathe more freely, especially in the villages.

This party-first culture crippled many things — economy, health services, the police and the administration. But its most damaging assault was on education which, under the long Left rule, became a matter of petty, sectarian politics that turned teachers' bodies — in schools, colleges and universities — into what Chinese communists call "work units" or "propaganda teams".

One of the first things she might need to undo is this complete politicisation of education in Bengal. The irony is that the poor and the ordinary people were the worst victims of this suicidal policy. The more affluent, let alone the rich, could escape this easily — by just leaving Bengal.

The same discrimination against the poor happened with the Left's decision to abolish English from primary school curricula and to generally lower the standards of education in the name of "democratisation".

It created a new class division between those who were trapped in the Left's education system and those who had the means to beat it.

The Left could use the teachers to serve its politics mainly by raising their salaries. It was a quid pro quo. Given the state of the coffers of the Bengal government, Mamata might have to seriously think whether the state should carry on with the burden of paying teachers' salaries or think of other means to fund education at all levels.

But freeing Bengal from the partisan spirit will involve undoing things in many other areas. There would be many analyses on what went wrong with the CPM and Bengal under it. A very comprehensive answer is that the bottom of the malady lay in the CPM equating the government with the party. Governance or the administration became a matter not of law or public interest, but of partisan considerations. It was not the case in the early years of Left rule. But the division between the party and the people increased in direct proportion to the length of the CPM rule.

The election results show that Mamata had increasingly succeeded in reaching out to the people, just as the CPM increasingly lost touch with them. But now, she has to ensure that the people's interests do not turn out to mean the interests of the Trinamul Congress or its leaders.

The people have placed their hope and faith in her to change this. Her mission will be seriously affected if the Trinamul Congress leaders at local levels continue to do, rather than undo, the wrongs that the CPM did to the people.

The people will give her time to try and meet their expectations. It is not as if they expect her to announce a bagful of new projects — in industry, agriculture, health or education — within days of entering Writers' Buildings.

But the early signals —whether in favour of an economic or educational renewal or for a fear-free life for the ordinary villager — will be a significant indication for hopes for Bengal's future.

She will achieve half her mission if she can restore confidence in Bengal's future — among business classes, civil society, academic and professional elite inside and outside the state and, most important, among the ordinary people.

"One definition of a liberated country," wrote Timothy Garton Ash, one of the best-known chroniclers of the fall of communism in eastern Europe, in his latest book, Facts Are Subversive, "is a place that people come back to rather than leave."

Too many have left Bengal for many years, seeing no hope for themselves or their children in the state. How long she takes to bring that sense of liberation to Bengal is Mamata's challenge from now on.


All the ministers' fate
Result reckoner
— Your guide to the historic verdict in Bengal: all 294 seats at your fingertips

Gopalkrishna Gandhi, the former governor who tried to broker peace between Mamata Banerjee and the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government during the Singur controversy, sentThe Telegraph the following message for the Trinamul leader, the Left and the people of Bengal

"The success of Mamatadebi and her associates is historic. It redeems political choice from habit, and political expression from fear. I give to her and to her coalition colleagues my sincerest congratulations. And my very best wishes for an outstanding tenure in the devoted and unvengeful service of the people of the state. The unsuccess of the Left Front is equally historic; it unschackles ideology from political furniture and public service from doctrinaire diktat. I give to those who have experienced defeat the best wishes for fulfilment in their new role as an unresentful constitutional Opposition. And to the people of West Bengal, I send from Chennai, a brother's ' nostalgic respect and love Left TMC+ Cong BJP GNLF Ind JKP GJM (N) Blank spaces in 2006 column indicate new seats formed after delimitation in 2009.The figures for 2009 are Assembly leads in the Lok Sabha polls"







Ladies script sweep show
- Cong scrapes through in Kerala but suffers defeat in TN

New Delhi, May 13: Two ladies — Mamata Banerjee in Bengal and Jayalalithaa in Tamil Nadu — grabbed the strobelights with their rampage run in what was a mostly varied Assembly verdict today.

Mamata gave a final shove to the incrementally eroded Left fortress in Bengal, ending its record 34-year run in power. Jayalalithaa defied pollsters and dumped the DMK in a performance that outshone Mamata in its surge and sweep. The Congress bucked anti-incumbency to retain Assam, but managed narrowly to escape what would have been a surprise defeat at the hands of the Left in Kerala.

If there was a single message national players were hoping to grasp from today's Assembly verdict, they are probably still groping for it. It's an outcome ringing with dissonant echoes from different corners of the country.

Probably the only broad message emerging from it is that regional parties remain entrenched and will continue to hold up ambitions of "national" parties to be rid of the compulsions of coalition politics.

Rahul Gandhi's "ekla chalo" call will remain deferred because the spokes aren't adding up for the umbrella party of yore. And some of those that had lie splintered.

The Congress, having lost a key ally in the south, will probably have to re-calibrate its choice of partners in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha polls. With Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalithaa — both doughty, and often troublesome, political customers — riding massive personal mandates, the Congress's political managers are up against a challenge.

Both ladies will need — and seek — the Centre's favour as they prepare to match up to high expectations, but they are equally capable in pushing for and extracting hard bargains.

Mamata will have to drive her wishes on how her party fares in the reorganisation of the Union cabinet, which is due. Jayalalithaa could begin to impel the Centre on moving harder against alleged corruption charges against the DMK, which remains a coalition partner in New Delhi.

Equally, the BJP will have to look to expand the shrunken NDA if it has to have any hope to getting close to power. The BJP was admittedly a low-stakes player in this round but it was virtually blanked in Assam, the only arena it had seriously played for, partly because it could not broker a credible deal with the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP).

The Congress, engaged across the board, alone or in alliance, managed but one handsome victory — in Assam. This verdict may have brought the Congress some relief but little reassurance that the going will be easy for UPA II as it enters the second half of its term in power. On paper, the Congress can claim a 3-2 margin, counting its piggybacking on allies, but the fine-print is more scrambled.

The party took Assam handsomely in the absence of a credible index of Opposition unity. But barely beat a spirited challenge from the incumbent Left in Kerala, where it was meant to have coasted to victory.

It suffered collateral damage for partnering the DMK in Tamil Nadu. It lost Puducherry to a breakaway wing which is most likely to ally with Jayalalithaa's AIADMK.

But what may have stung the party most was a bypoll that went barely noticed in the big-ticket Assembly announcements — rebel Jaganmohan Reddy drubbing the Congress in his Kadapa pocketborough by a five lakh-plus margin and thumbing his nose at Sonia Gandhi — a personal snub to the party boss on a day of what was mixed political news at best.

Perhaps the most comforting message for the Congress came from the deep discomfiture of its Tamil Nadu ally.

The decimation of the DMK drastically reduces both its bargaining power at the Centre and its nuisance potential. It could free the hands of the Congress and the UPA to wash off more vigorously the 2G stains.

News from Chennai this morning was that DMK boss M. Karunanidhi was only waiting to seal his victory before he flew to Delhi in an attempt to force the government's hands on Kanimozhi, who faces a critical court hearing tomorrow.

The Tamil Nadu voter ensured Karunanidhi had neither the muscle nor the mood to make that trip. "We were dreading a DMK victory in our heart of hearts," a senior Congress leader admitted as trends stacked up heavily in favour of Jayalalithaa.

"Imagine what arm-twisting they could have indulged in on the 2G issue had they won, we would have had an embarrassing high-voltage crisis in Delhi. We may not have won Tamil Nadu, but that is a blessing in disguise, at least the Centre has been spared immediate tremors."

Even though they are loath to admit corruption was an issue that hurt the party, Congress leaders are looking forward to exhibiting "greater and demonstrable action" against corruption allegations, now that the DMK has been emaciated.

Asked whether serial sleaze charges had hurt the Congress, Union minister and AICC general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu Ghulam Nabi Azad used two arguments to deflect the query: the Congress' runaway victory in Assam and Tamil Nadu's consistent record of voting out incumbent governments.

His cabinet colleague, Kapil Sibal, took another — probably smarter — recourse.

Corruption, he argued, is an issue "everywhere and should be an issue, but these are regional elections with regional issues at the forefront, this isn't a verdict on what has happened in Delhi".

South comrades lose photo-finish race

Thiruvananthapuram, May 13: For the beaten comrades, Kerala was at least kinder.

The Left Democratic Front (LDF) nearly broke the southern state's electoral tradition of changing the government every five years before it lost in a photo-finish to the United Democratic Front (UDF) by just four seats today.

The battle for the 140 seats that went to polls on April 13 went down to the wire, with the Congress-led UDF struggling to stay ahead and the CPM-led LDF threatening to close in till the last votes were counted.

In Bengal, the morning had showed the rout.

The 72-68 Kerala result surprised even UDF leaders who had banked on the electorate's aversion to continuity and expected more than 90 seats in the 13th Assembly.

"This is quite a surprise and we will look into the factors that led to the UDF losing some of the sure seats," Congress leader Oommen Chandy said.

Widely seen as the next chief minister, Chandy won from Puthupally in Kottayam district by a margin of 33,255 votes.

But state party chief Ramesh Chennithala won by just 5,520 votes despite contesting from Haripad in his native district Alappuzha.

All that separated the two fronts was some 1.5 lakh votes, with the LDF losing three seats by less than 500 votes and nine by fewer than 1,000 in a clear indication of how close the contest was.

For the UDF, the Congress won 38 seats and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) 20. The Kerala Congress (Mani), a strong force in the southern Christian belt of Kottayam and Idukki, won 9 seats, the Democratic Socialist Janata Dal 2, and the Kerala Congress (B), Kerala Congress (Jacob) and the RSP (B) one each.

Although the largest single party with 47 seats, the CPM will have to sit in the Opposition. Allies CPI won 13, Janata Dal (S) 4, and the NCP and the RSP 2 each.

The BJP failed to open its account yet again although it finished second in three constituencies. Party veteran . Rajagopal lost in Nemom, in Thiruvananthapuram district, by 6,415 votes.

Chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan, who is being credited for the LDF show, accepted defeat. "We will sit in the Opposition as we don't believe in horse trading," he said.

"Communal forces did play a major role in ensuring this technical victory for the UDF," the 87-year-old CPM leader added.

Achuthanandan won by 23,440 votes from Malampuzha in Palakkad district.

Politburo member and party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, a long-time rival of the chief minister, parried a question on how the "VS factor" took the LDF so close to victory. "It is the LDF government's performance for the common man, including its anti-globalisation programmes, that won us this kind of support," he told a media conference.

With such a narrow victory margin for the UDF, there is talk of the IUML demanding the post of deputy chief minister. But IUML heavyweight P.K. Kunhalikutty, who won from Vengara in Malappuram by a margin of 38,237 votes, said: "A small margin is sometimes good since it makes all of us more responsible on the need to preserve unity."

While all but three ministers won the polls, prominent losers included K.R. Gowri and M.V. Raghavan — both former CPM stalwarts who later joined the UDF.

At 92, Gowri was the oldest candidate to have ever fought an election in Kerala.

In a day, 'lies' turn science

Calcutta, May 13: A pack of "lies" by "fools" yesterday; a celebrated science today. Psephologists faced accolades this evening for accurately predicting the sweep by Mamata Banerjee, and also those by Jayalalithaa and Tarun Gogoi.

The Nielsen Company's exit poll for STAR Ananda on May 10 had predicted 225 seats for the Opposition alliance in Bengal and 60 for the Left. Two post-poll surveys broadcast on CNN-IBN and Headlines Today too had estimated the Congress-Trinamul combine's seats at between 210 and 234.

That had been enough for Bengal CPM boss Biman Bose to dub the forecasts "lies", question the pollsters' motives and slam them as "ahammok (fools)" last evening.

A day later, Trinamul vice-president Derek 'Brien was saluting the forecasts that only went awry over Kerala while getting Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam spot on. A post-poll survey by CNN-IBN/The Week-CSDS had predicted the wins for Jayalalithaa and Gogoi.

"The science of psephology got a big boost today by getting three of the four predictions correct. All the exit polls had predicted a landslide victory for TMC, and they had captured the mood by using the science of psephology," 'Brien said.

Even Bose's party colleague, Mohammed Salim, admitted that this was a success of science. "There are tools to carry out exit polls and it (success) depends on how accurately these tools are used," Salim said, though he pointed out: "But in 2001 and this time in Kerala, the exit polls failed."

The Nielsen pollsters were right not only about the Bengal outcome but also in predicting defeats for Left heavyweights such as chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and ministers Nirupam Sen, Asim Dasgupta, Anadi Sahoo and Debesh Das.

Still, Bose was unimpressed — or in denial. "Jhore bok morephakirer keramoti baare(a storm kills the stork but the wizard gets the credit)," he said today.

Experts said the predictions, based on a survey of 33,000-odd voters from an electorate of 5.6 crore, were so accurate because of the size of the Trinamul win. "It's easier to predict landslide victories than a split verdict. Psephology works less effectively in close contests," said Shilu Chatterjee, a market research expert engaged by Star Ananda for the survey.

"This is why the prediction (a Trinamul win) didn't match the results in 2001 (when the Left won 199 seats to the Opposition alliance's 86) but was correct in 2006 (when the Left swept the polls)."

The same reason explains why some forecasts went wrong this time in Kerala, where just four seats decided the contest, although Asianet's survey, carried out by Cfore, got the outcome right.

The Nielsen-Star Ananda poll made a few mistakes about individual contestants, wrongly predicting wins for Gautam Deb, Ashok Bhattacharya and Rekha Goswami and a defeat for Surjya Kanta Mishra. Chatterjee attributed these to "close fights".

Exit polls are done by asking voters to repeat their vote at dummy booths set up outside polling stations. But this time, the Election Commission had banned exit polls till the last phase. So, for the first five phases in Bengal, field workers went house to house a day after the polling.

The voters were given two sets of ballots and asked to repeat their Assembly election vote on one and their 2009 Lok Sabha vote on the other. "The difference helped calculate the swing," Chatterjee said.

Umesh Jha, director (client solutions) at Nielsen, said pollsters usually got the overall result right but predicting the number of seats was a bigger challenge. He said forecasts had become more accurate because surveys were now covering 50-51 per cent of the constituencies against the earlier 40 per cent.

M keeps faith in M
- Trinamul bags over 90 of the 125 seats with sizeable Muslim electorates

Calcutta, May 13: The minorities have shown their faith in Mamata Banerjee again, as they did in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

Of the 125 seats where Muslims have sizeable votes, the Left Front lost 90-odd today — a repeat of the 2009 results when it had trailed in 97 of these Assembly segments.

In 2006, when the Left swept to power with 235 seats in the Assembly, it had won 102 of these 125 seats.

Areas with high minority concentrations in Cooch Behar, South Dinajpur, North Dinajpur and Malda overwhelmingly voted for the Mamata-led alliance, sending the signal that Singur, Sachar and Nandigram were fresh in their minds. Hooghly, Howrah, North and South 24-Parganas and even the Red belt of Burdwan presented a similar picture.

Since 2009, the CPM had tried to woo back its Muslim voters by announcing job reservations and socio-economic programmes under the Multi-Sectoral Development Plan.

"There is no denying that the CPM tried its best to reclaim Muslim votes. But the minorities had a big fear," Trinamul secretary-general and leader of the Opposition Partha Chatterjee said.

"They realised that the Left's admission of mistakes was just a ploy to get back their support. The Muslims didn't forget that the CPM was out to grab their land."

The minority drift away from the Left had started well before the Lok Sabha elections. A year earlier, in the 2008 rural polls, the front lost more than 50 per cent of the gram panchayat seats and four zilla parishads to the Opposition in the Left's first electoral setback after Singur and Nandigram.

In the municipal elections last year, Trinamul won 50 of the 81 civic bodies that went to the polls even though it did not have an alliance with the Congress. The Left Front, which was at the helm in 60 municipalities, lost 47 — most of them in areas with minority concentration.

Asked if he could explain the debacle, CPM state secretariat member Mohammed Salim said: "Right now, we can't say why the disaster happened, particularly in the Muslim belts. We will discuss and analyse the poll results. It's time for all of us to maintain peace and not get provoked."

In the years since Singur erupted, Mamata has done her bit to woo the minorities, who may have been wary of her earlier association with the BJP.

Wearing a burqa and offering namaz on the dharna manch in Singur was part of the attempt.

She also reminded the minorities that she had engaged late Trinamul MP Ajit Panja to fight in court so that the azaan could continue to be broadcast over loudspeakers.

Trinamul workers went around the state telling the minorities that even during her NDA days, Mamata had fought against the anti-terror legislation Pota, which she considered anti-Muslim.

Wherever she went across Bengal during the campaign, Mamata would speak of Ram and Rahim or Ishwar and Allah.

After taking over as railway minister, she introduced trains in areas with minority concentrations, allowed candidates to take recruitment tests in Urdu and announced that a station would be named after Bahadur Shah Zafar. All this paid off.

Urdu-speaking Muslims in Bengal have largely been supporters of the Congress, except for a few elections after the Babri Masjid demolition when, gripped by "security fears", they had turned to the CPM.

But the Bengali-speaking rural Muslim voters had been firmly with the Left until the panchayat polls in 2008. They have voted against the Left yet again, possibly driven by the fear of the Left taking away their land.

Nandigram, where the land protests in 2007 can be seen as the trigger that brought down the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government today, has a large Muslim population of former Left voters who have turned against the ruling party over land.

The Rajindar Sachar committee's report on the deplorable socio-economic condition and educational status of minorities in Bengal added to the Muslim drift.

Today's results showed that the Left's pre-poll claim of having made a "turnaround" in the minority belts was just that — a tall claim.




Lest we forget
The Telegraph lists the legacy of the Left rule in Bengal as curtains fall on the 34-year-old regime

INDUSTRIAL STUPOR

Unlike in 2011, the clarion call in 1977 was janaganatantrik biplob (people's democratic movement). Kanailal Bhattacharya, a Forward Bloc leader, was handed charge of the industry ministry when the Left first came to power in 1977 with the promise of giving a better deal to the poorest of the poor in the state. The stalwarts of the CPM — even then the dominant force in the Front — kept other departments like labour, land and land reforms. As industry slipped down the list of priorities, industrial relations plumbed a new low and militant trade unionism resulted in a flight of capital. The situation prevailed till 1993, when the Left under Jyoti Basu came up with a New Economic Policy. But the state had to wait till 2006 to get an industry minister who is also a party heavyweight

ENGLISH BLUNDER

In 1983, six years after coming to power, the Left Front banned the teaching of English till Class VI even as the children of Left leaders got enrolled in English-medium schools. The government justified the ban by citing a recommendation of the Himangshu Bimal Mazumdar Commission constituted during the Congress government in 1975 that had said that the teaching of two languages to children till Class VI would be tortuous and unscientific. But one of the primary intentions of abolishing English was to increase enrolment of students in primary classes in state-aided schools located in rural districts as the Left leaders wanted to earn brownie points with higher enrolments. Increasing the success rate in Madhyamik was another motive behind undermining English teaching in state-aided schools.

The secondary-level English syllabus was also restructured to make it more simple, although students from the state continued suffering in all-India examinations and in other spheres of life. The Pabitra Sarkar Committee was set up in 1999 to examine whether it was necessary to reintroduce English at primary level. Based on the committee's findings, English was restored to Class I in 2004.

CALCUTTA'S DECAY

The Left Front government turned Bengal into a one-city state. The first thing the Left Front government did after coming to power was expand the geographical spread of the city by adding 41 wards of Behala, Garden Reach and Jadavpur. The move was aimed at securing Calcutta as a Left stronghold by adding wards where it had always enjoyed majority.

An unplanned real estate boom started in these areas as Left leaders turned a blind eye to the phenomenon of filling up ponds and water bodies. Buildings came up in these areas but no support infrastructure — road and sewer lines — was created. The Left civic boards did little to clear the slums — the city has over 4,900 slums — as slum-dwellers emerged as the main vote bank for the front.

Another populist move was giving the hawkers a free run on the pavements that further shrunk the city's roadspace. Instead of working on a proper urban transportation plan, the Left government introduced autorickshaws to the streets of Calcutta that added to the chaos and poisoned the air.

HEALTH CARE HORROR

Perhaps in no other field has the Left government let down the poor than in health care. Primary health care centres in Bengal became horror stories symptomatic of all that was wrong with the way the front ran its government.

The state government failed to create an effective primary and secondary health care infrastructure in Bengal. If there is one doctor for 2,083 patients in the country, there is only one doctor for 3,964 patients in Bengal. If at all doctors were posted in rural centres, absenteeism became an endemic problem.

The "sick wagons" chugging out of Howrah railway stations, packed with patients headed to south India, is a sorry statement on how the Left failed to channel investments into health care. In district hospitals, most doctors are compelled to refer even caesarean deliveries to a medical college in Calcutta.

Since 1977, hardly any infrastructure has been created for cardiology, nephrology, psychiatry and haematology in the rural areas. For a by-pass surgery or dialysis, patients from the villages will have to come to Calcutta or go outside the state.

Another failure of the Left government has been its inability to create infrastructure for medical education. In the past 34 years, only three medical colleges have come up in Bengal, two of which were set up by the government. In Karnataka in the past 10 years, more than 15 medical colleges have come up, six of which were set up by the government. In Maharasthra in the past 15 years, 17 medical colleges have been set up, of which five are government-run.

POLICE POLITICS

In 1979, Jyoti Basu had a brainwave: inject politics into a disciplined force by forming the Calcutta Police Association. It also paved the way for the formation of non-gazetted unions in the district police lines. With most promotions and postings defined by political equations, the personnel in uniform became an extension of the party. Handpicked officers were busy serving the interests of the government and the party, leaving corrupt and inept officers to call the shots in law and order management.

The administration's failure in not just tackling problems but also in preventing conflicts from snowballing into crises — be it in the hills or in places like Nandigram — shows the pitfalls of breeding an inefficient system.

CADRE RAJ

1977 did not mark the beginning of a long Left innings alone, it also heralded an unending season of thanksgiving. A grateful Left government repaid the cadres by creating government jobs, never mind if they were needed or not. A government workforce of over 10 lakh, one of the biggest such collections across the country, was built. The recruitment drive was launched from the third year of the government coming to power. It continued till August 2010, filling various directorates like food and civil supplies, agriculture, fire services and youth services with recruits.

Although written examinations were held to select the candidates, allegations were rife that only party cadres and their relatives got jobs. As several families with more than two to three government employees can be found almost everywhere in the state, the accusation of nepotism cannot be dismissed as wild. The reckless drive not only bled the coffers dry but also killed meritocracy in the state.

BIG FAT CABINET

As keeping the flock together was an overriding concern of the Left Front that came to power in 1977, it created slots for 30 ministers — including cabinet and ministers of state — to park its own MLAs and those from the allies. When the government ran out of ministries, it improvised. For instance, several ministries were carved out from education — school education, higher education and technical education, not to mention a library minister.

Over the years, the Left fine-tuned the carving to perfection and the number of ministries swelled to 43. A fire services department — the only such department across the country — rose from the furnace of such creative thinking. Housing was stripped from PWD. Micro departments that dealt with western region development, mass education and madarsa and minority affairs were chiselled.

As accommodating allies was the main concern, the government also created departments like water resources and disaster management.

EDUCATION CZAR

The first Left government set a target to establish control on each and every primary and secondary school in Bengal. To achieve the target, the government decided to bear the entire expenditure for running the institutions. Although the merits and demerits of the move can be debated, there is little doubt that the government largesse for all the schools strained the education budget. The centralised education system also cast a shadow on the quality of education.

In 1977, there were around 40,941 primary schools, 3,201 junior high schools (till Class VIII), 3,661 secondary schools and 967 higher secondary schools. In 1982, each of these schools were brought under the government's grant-in-aid scheme for providing full financial assistance for paying salaries to teachers. The government also abolished tuition fees of students till Class VIII studying in the state-aided schools.

The government control resulted in recruitment of party cadres in these schools, who became the backbone of the Left's support base. Apparently, the move to have full control of all state-aided private schools was intended to increase enrolment by attracting more students from middle class and lower middle class families. But the policy was also aimed at making political gains. Since the schools received full grant from the government, they were bound to follow its language policy and allow teachers and non-teaching staff to participate in CPM unions.

UNION INFILTRATION

As the objective was to retain control over educational institutions — from schools to universities — the Left leaders placed emphasis on penetrating the institutes through unions. The effort did pay off as teachers' unions in Bengal played a big role in safeguarding the policies of the Left Front government even if they were faulty and not acceptable to the student and teaching communities.

In an attempt to take the teaching community into confidence, the Left Front pulled out all stops to increase the membership of the CPM-controlled teachers' bodies — such as the All Bengal Teachers' Association (ABTA), the All Bengal Primary Teachers' Association and the West Bengal College and University Teachers' Association.

The inclusion of teacher representatives in the executive committee of the state-run West Bengal Board of Secondary Education and West Bengal Council of Higher Secondary Education is a glaring example of how the CPM-led government used teachers for advocating its policies.

In the mid-1980s, the government amended the rules to incorporate teacher representatives in the Madhyamik board and HS council. The teacher representatives in the board and council are now selected from among the ABTA members. Similarly, the number of teacher representation in the managing committees of schools, senate and syndicate were also increased. At present, these bodies hardly have teachers owing allegiance to non-Left bodies.

WORK CULTURE, RIP

After a motivational lecture on fast-tracking delivery of government projects, a senior IAS officer in North 24-Parganas had told his superior: "Sir, if you can please motivate the people with whom I work, we will deliver ahead of schedule."

The young IAS officer had placed the request because his effort to speed up work was repeatedly running into a resistance from employees. He sought the good offices of the leaders of the co-ordination committee but they pleaded helplessness.

The officer's plight is a telling testimony to how the government never told its employees that they had certain duties to discharge in a time-bound manner. By the time Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee coined "do it now" and tried disciplining the workforce, it was too late as the state's work culture had been destroyed by then. Not only did government work suffer but the lethargic state of affairs also generated an impression inside and outside Bengal that nothing ever gets done in the state.

PARTY CONTROL

When a Bengal Congress leader once asked chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee whether he was a "bonded labourer" and always toed the party line, he had said: "Right you are. I am bonded with Alimuddin Street."

The chief minister's answer sums up how the party played an over-arching role in governing the state. In Bengal, the communist practice of the party running the government began shortly after the Left Front government took over in 1977.

However, Jyoti Basu, the then chief minister whose writ ran large in the party, had crossed swords with then CPM state secretary Promode Dasgupta on the party's "day-to-day interference" in the government's work. So much so that Basu had refused to create teaching posts to accommodate the party faithfuls when PDG was insisting on that. But finally, PDG's writ stayed and that became the norm.

Although the government was run from Writers', the remote control had always been at Alimuddin Street, where the state CPM headquarters is located. Be it the appointment of vice-chancellors or postings of IAS and IPS officers, all major administrative decisions needed the nod of Alimuddin Street.

PETTY TACTICS

Playing to the gallery for short-lived applause became a pastime for the Left. Nothing illustrates this better than renaming Harrington Street — home to the American consulate — as Ho Chi Minh Sarani. A better way of settling scores with America would have been to take care of the poor in such a manner that the capitalists would have had little option but to admire Bengal. If governments ruled by other parties in other states had followed a policy of rechristening streets where CPM offices are located, the party would have been safe in only three states in the country. The party eventually ate humble pie when its leaders had to bend over backwards before capitalists to court investments.

The paucity of ideas was also on display when the Left unveiled a statue culture. If they can't get a job, let them admire the Lenin statue and salivate about the golden days that revolution will bring one day.

THE GOOD INTENTIONS

LAND REFORMS

The Left government successfully implemented land reforms that changed land relations in Bengal. The reforms took shape in the form of redistribution of vested land and securing tenancy through a programme of universal registration of tenants, called Operation Barga. The effort was accompanied by effective institutionalisation of decentralised democracy through a three-tier panchayat system.

According to the budget statement of 2011-12, in the past 34 years (up to January 
15, 2011), 11.32 lakh acres were distributed, benefiting 30.44 lakh farmers. The report claimed that 66 per cent of the beneficiaries belonged to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities.

The benefits of land reforms were visible in gains in agriculture. During the period between 1980-81 and 1999-2000, the annual rate of growth of foodgrain production in the state was 4.1 per cent against an average of 2.5 per cent for all major states.

CLEAN IMAGE

One of the biggest assets of the Left Front government has been the clean image of its leaders.

While corruption scandals involving chief ministers and cabinet colleagues of other states kept tumbling out, the Left Front steered clear of such controversies. The rise of Jyoti Basu's son Chandan as a businessman often embarrassed the government and the party but the personal integrity of Basu was rarely called into question. The same can be said of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and most of his cabinet colleagues. The Spartan lifestyle of prominent Left leaders — from Promode Dasgupta to Biman Bose — gave the party credibility among the poorest of the poor.

COMMUNAL HARMONY

One of the biggest successes of the Left Front government has been creating a tolerant 
society, where large clusters of people from different religions could co-exist without conflagrations. Although some critics of the Left claim that Bengal had a secular past, there is little doubt that the Left Front leaders did their best to preserve the tradition. Bengal remained an oasis of peace even during the Babri Masjid demolition, when riots broke out in several parts of the country.

COSMOPOLITAN CULTURE

The Left Front should get accolades for preserving the cosmopolitan tradition of Calcutta, which till 1911 was the capital of India. Although most of the big businesses in Bengal were held by Marwaris, the Left Front never inflamed sectarian passions for political gains. Poor industrial relations saw the flight of capital, but Marwaris, Gujaratis, Punjabis and other communities stayed back and still call Bengal their home. Bengal also has taken care not to make people from other states feel they are outsiders, unlike the Shiv Sena and its offshoots in Maharashtra.

Buddha did tryAfter spending almost two decades in power, the Left Front under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee realised that industrial growth was the precondition for a better future for Bengal. Slogans like krishi amader bhitti, shilpo amader bhobisyot (agriculture is our foundation and industry is our future) were coined as Bhattacharjee tried wooing investments to Bengal. The effort started by employing McKinsey to project Bengal as an investment destination. Bhattacharjee, along with his cabinet colleague Nirupam Sen, aggressively pitched for investments, and investors started looking at Bengal with interest. The government competed with other states to get Tata Motors to Bengal for the Nano project in Singur. Although in the face of opposition from Mamata the project was finally shifted to Sanand in Gujarat, the government did not deviate from its objective of pursuing private investments.

PRIVATISING EDUCATION

The Left Front was against privatising engineering and medical education and did not accept the Centre's proposal to set up private engineering and medical colleges in the state in the late 1980s. Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and other states in the south had accepted the Centre's policy and allowed private players to set up engineering colleges. The number of engineering seats in these states increased considerably, drawing students from Bengal, too.

Alarmed at the exodus in the mid-1990s, the government was forced to change its policy and allowed private engineering institutions in the state. 
The decision to privatise medical education was also finalised much later. 

POWER PUSH

"Load shedding" was a phrase that defined Calcutta when the Left Front formed its first government. In 1977, the state's total generation capacity was around 1,360MW and the peak demand around 1,100MW. Recurring glitches and under-performance of variousunits saddled the state with a shortfall of around 300MW in summers. 

Efforts by the government during the tenure of three power ministers — Jyoti Basu, Prabir Sengupta and Sankar Sen — set the stage for a gradual turnaround in the mid-1980s. The state now generates over 7,100MW against a peak demand of around 6,900MW. Except during phases when quality coal supply is stymied or there is a technical glitch, Calcutta hardly sees a blackout. The government also entered into agreements to share power with neighbouring states and buy power from utilities like NTPC. The state's performance in rural electrification, however, remains dismal.

THE TEACHER COST

The teacher constituency served the interests of the Left but not financial prudence. In 1977 the state government spent Rs 114 crore on education. By 2010-11, the education bill had ballooned to Rs 13,622 crore. The expenditure would have been laudable had the amount been spent on building infrastructure and drawing more children to schools. But more than 80 per cent of the funds are meant for paying teachers' salaries

Tata trip plan

Calcutta, May 13: Ratan Tata is likely to visit Calcutta on Monday to inaugurate a cancer hospital in Rajarhat, a venture started before his group's Nano project in Singur.

Tata's trip will be a low-key affair compared with his visit on a hot May afternoon five years ago. The chairman of the country's largest business house had come to Writers' Buildings to announce the Nano project on May 18, 2006 — the first day in office for the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-led seventh Left Front government. It is unlikely that Tata will go to Writers' this time to meet Bhattacharjee, now in charge of a caretaker government before Mamata Banerjee is sworn in.

The trip is being billed as an internal event of the Tata group featuring mainly the top executives. The guest list is going to be very small, though invitations have been sent to some government departments.

The Nano announcement in 2006 was then the high point of the Left government, which had fought the last election on the plank of industrialisation. "How do you like the beginning?" Bhattacharjee had famously said when he was asked if more projects would follow the Nano proposal. Ironically, it was the Nano project that ignited the industry-versus-agriculture debate that led to the Left Front's rout today.

The 167-bed hospital, built on 13 acres in Rajarhat's New Town at a cost of Rs 150 crore, has been set up in alliance with the Tata Memorial Hospital, Mumbai. Fifty per cent of the patients at the Calcutta hospital will be from underprivileged sections and will get free or subsidised treatment.

Tata had earlier said the Mumbai hospital drew 25-30 per cent of its patients from the east, Northeast, Nepal and Bangladesh and a Calcutta centre would cater to people from the region.

Stones at Nano plant

A crowd of suspected Trinamul supporters threw stones at the Singur plant this afternoon, leaving a security guard with a head injury that required four stitches, police said. Hours later, another group of Trinamul supporters offered puja at a Kali temple inside the complex. Carrying party flags and beating drums, the supporters, their faces smeared with green abir, were seen dancing on their way in and out.

GraveyardBengal
- The Left Front is leaving behind not just scorched earth but worse

From the decaying Darjeeling and the stagnating tea gardens in the Dooars to the skeletons of closed and sick industrial units in the old rust belt of Durgapur-Asansol and on both banks of the Hooghly, it is a long row of graveyards that the Left leaves behind in Bengal.

Not just industries but, more crucially, institutions that once made Bengal proud and prosperous lie in ruins, whether in education, administration, health services, small and medium enterprises or even in agriculture and other land-based activities.

Such is the scale of Bengal's decline that it is now among the poorest states in India. The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), constructed by the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) for the UNDP's Human Development Report, 2010, estimates 55 per cent of India's population to be poor on the basis of various indicators such as health, education and living standards. According to the study, the proportion of the poor in Bengal is 58.4 per cent, which is higher than the national average.

For all the noises that the Left made over the Arjun Sengupta Committee's finding that 77 per cent of India 's population live on less than Rs 20 a day in terms of purchasing power parity, the 34 years of Left rule has actually deepened poverty and unemployment in the state. Data from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) show that aggregate employment growth in Bengal between 1993-94 and 1999-2000 was only 0.76 per cent, compared to 2.44 per cent in earlier periods. This means less work and also more and more irregular work.

Obviously, a government that has one of the worst rates of indebtedness among the states has neither the money nor a vision to create either wealth or jobs. The success story of Haldia or the IT hub in Salt Lake can hardly counter the big story of overall decay. Besides, they also show what economists call a disturbing trend of an imbalance between investment and employment generation.

It certainly is not the truth that the Left inherited a "Sonar Bangla" (Golden Bengal). Bengal's economic decline started in the sixties, thanks mainly to a huge population rise because of the unending influx of refugees from former East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. Even between 1951 and 1961, Bengal recorded a 33 per cent rise in population, as against a national average of 22 per cent. Letters of the then chief minister Bidhan Chandra Roy to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru vividly capture the strains on the state's economy.

The industrial sickness also had much to do with the Centre's unfair freight equalisation policy which, together with the shrinking orders from the railways and the CPM's irresponsible trade unionism, killed the small factories in Howrah, once known as the Sheffield of India.

The eve of the Left Front's coming to power in 1977 wasn't exactly the high noon of Bengal's glory, either. A crumbling Congress, both in Delhi and Calcutta, left Bengal politically unstable and economically vulnerable. The Left contributed its share to the gathering doom with its militant politics, especially on the industrial front. The entry of "gherao" in the Oxford English Dictionary, in a way, symbolised the new age in Bengal.

In fact, the Naxalite violence and the Youth Congress-Chhatra Parishad vandalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s prompted the first brain drain from Bengal. The economic decline that set in and the party society that the CPM then founded and spread everywhere forced two generations of the best and the brightest to leave the state in fear and despair.

The tragedy is that when Jyoti Basu began his long reign, the Left, instead of reversing the trend in economic decline, started dismantling more and more edifices, economic and institutional, with greater vengeance.

The most powerful symbol of a fine institution going the graveyard way under the Left was Presidency College. Liberal and professional education, which had given Bengal an edge over other states for over a century, became the Left's main battlefield for its supposedly ideological breakthroughs.

What the Left did to pull down Presidency — first with a new transfer policy for its teachers and then stuffing the faculty with political loyalists and even manipulating the admission policy — was reminiscent of the Red Guards' battles during the Cultural Revolution to destroy the "elitist" character of Tsinghua University, founded by the Americans in 1911 as a centre of excellence in science and engineering. Rajat Kanta Ray, the history professor and now vice-chancellor of Visva-Bharati, was the only teacher of repute who stayed on at Presidency until recently — like the "boy on the burning deck".

The same politics of "anti-elitism" or "democratisation" of education prompted the abolition of English and the examination system from the primary school level.

But the assault on education actually went much deeper. From the universities to colleges and schools, loyalty to the party prevailed over the formalities for recruitment. The result was a pathetic fall in educational standards at all levels — mediocre teachers producing unteachable and unemployable students. It was like Gresham's Law in education, the bad driving out the good. Better salaries for teachers helped the party and its flock but not the cause of education.

Surprisingly, the CPM's crusade against excellence and modernity, in industry or education, was a far cry from what its Chinese comrades were doing at the time. Deng Xiaoping was launching the "Four Modernisations" in China around the time the CPM in Bengal was resisting the introduction of computers in industry and other commercial sectors.

But surely things were different in agriculture and in village life. For a time, they definitely were. The land reforms and the elected panchayats not only electrified the lives of the poor with a new sense of democracy and empowerment but also improved both production and productivity in agriculture.

There are debates if the improvements in farming until the late 1980s were really the result of land reforms or of the introduction of high-yielding seeds and more intensive use of small irrigation under private initiatives. But there was little doubt that the poor in rural Bengal had more purchasing power and greater political participation than ever before.

But the promise died young. The CPM gradually moved away from all forms of economic and political radicalism in the villages. With the party's help and support, a new "middle" class, comprising school teachers, middle-turned-rich peasants and small contractors of government-funded schemes, pushed the poor away not only from leadership but also from any form of participation in economic and political decision-making.

The CPM's abdication of the cause of social justice and its alienation from the poor in rural areas showed in two striking ways. The poor who had got small plots of land, thanks to land reforms, or had their share-cropping rights legalised through Operation Barga, were selling off both land and cropping rights to the new class of the rural rich because the former did not have the means to buy the inputs for farming or make the land feed an expanding family.

The increasing seasonal migration of villagers from several districts such as Bankura, Purulia, West Midnapore, Malda and Birbhum to other states indicated the shrinking of the rural economy in Bengal. Worst of all, all recent data — from the National Council of Applied Economic Research and some other organisations — have confirmed that Bengal now has an increasing rate of school dropouts and low enrolment in the villages.

A few years ago, Amartya Sen's Pratichi Trust collected detailed statistics in some districts to show what had been known for many years — that primary education was in a shambles, largely because of absenteeism by teachers who used their political clout to do everything other than go to the school and teach. The CPM made a desperate attempt at damage control some years ago by banning teachers from contesting panchayat elections. It was too cosmetic a change that came too late for the teacher-comrades to renew their interest in teaching.

Why then did the Left win elections all these years, especially on the strength of its rural vote? Obviously, the Left Front government's pro-poor work during its earlier years and the salaried classes in government jobs created a solid votebank. But there are two other broad political answers to the question. One, electoral politics is not necessarily linked to development or to who benefits most from it. Even so, the decline in the Left's vote share since 1996 provides a link. Second, the rise and fall of a party in any state has much to do with the rise and fall of the Congress in that state and at the Centre. For that makes a crucial difference to electoral arithmetic in India's age of coalition politics.

But the graveyard symbolism for Bengal showed also in an overall deterioration of the state's political culture. It wasn't surprising that one of the most abusive of CPM leaders in the just- concluded polls was a former college principal. On the Trinamul Congress camp, too, one star who excelled in verbal abuses was a cultural icon-turned-politician. Verbal abuse and actual violence have a field day when productive labour or thinking is in short supply.

The empty fields of Singur, from where the world's cheapest small car in history could have rolled out and thereby helped revive Bengal, are a stirring image of a new hope under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee that too died young.

Mamata keeps wagon hitched

Calcutta, May 13: A victorious Mamata Banerjee said today she would like to hold on to the railway ministry for her party as she herself took charge as Bengal's chief minister.

"I will request the Prime Minister to leave the railway ministry in our hands. That is the only cabinet rank we hold. The Prime Minister will take the decision," she said.

Given the inevitable boost Mamata will receive from her slam-dunk election victory to her position in the United Progressive Alliance, Manmohan Singh will find it well nigh impossible to turn down her request even if he has other ideas.

Her close confidant and Union minister of state for shipping, Mukul Roy, is tipped to get the ministry.

With the slew of projects Mamata has announced in the state with the promise of creating jobs, it is important for her that the railway ministry remains in her hands.

She is expected to fly to Delhi soon with the agenda of securing for her party the ministry. Trinamul sources said she could go even before being sworn in as chief minister.

Before that she will meet Pranab Mukherjee who is visiting Calcutta tomorrow. "I will meet Pranab-da. There are many issues to be discussed. I will have to go to Delhi once and meet the Prime Minister. Aamraa UPA te thakbo (We will remain in the UPA)," Mamata said, hours after Trinamul and its partners were voted to power ending 34 years of Left rule.

The Trinamul sources said that for the time being Mamata would not press for another cabinet berth, though there was a possibility that the Prime Minister would offer her two places in exchange for the railway ministry.

They said that in the changed power matrix after the elections in five states, Trinamul had been left holding the winning hand in Delhi.

"The rout that the DMK has suffered in Tamil Nadu and the 2G controversy is a huge setback for them. Trinamul is the most important ally for the Congress at the Centre. We have stood by the Centre in all crisis situations and supported the Prime Minister throughout," a Trinamul general secretary said.

Mamata knows she will need the Centre's support in running the government, especially in sorting out the state finances. That is also one of the reasons she wants the Congress to join her government.

"The Congress is the bigger party at the national level. Here it will be a role reversal but we will work together," a Trinamul leader said.

Small & junior plan for ministry

Calcutta, May 13: Mamata Banerjee wants her government to be small and compact with more ministers of state than cabinet ministers, a senior Trinamul Congress leader close to her said.

"With junior ministers she will be in better control and the decision-making process would be easier," the leader said, pointing out that at the Centre too she had opted for only one cabinet-rank portfolio.

Mamata has already announced that she will keep the departments of home, health, education and commerce and industry with herself.

"At least for the first year, Mamatadi would keep the industry portfolio with her. Depending on how the departments function, it could be later delegated to someone or she might continue. She has repeatedly said the Left rule has left the health and education sectors in a shambles. To set matters right, she would have to lead from the front," a Trinamul source said.

Mamata would need deputies to run the four departments.

The Trinamul chief is looking for a blend of experience and youth and a ministry that will have representation from all 19 districts of the state, a senior party leader said. "She has always emphasised on inclusiveness, working with everybody. No part of the state will go without representation in the government," the leader said.

The names of Amit Mitra, Manish Gupta, Subrata Bakshi, Partha Chatterjee, Subrata Mukherjee, Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Gautam Deb, Rabi Ranjan Chatterjee, Jyotipriya Mullick, Firhad Hakim, Javed Khan, Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar, Bratya Basu, Braja Mohan Majumdar are doing the rounds as possible ministers.

Among the women, Shashi Panja and Shiuli Saha are the most likely to find place in government.

Of the former IPS officers in the fray, it is expected to be a close race between Upen Biswas, Hyder Ali Safwi and Abani Joardar. Sardar Amjad Ali is also in the reckoning.

Old loyalist Madan Mitra is on the list of probables, as is Benoy Burman, a former Leftist who now swears by maa, maati, manush and won from Mathabhanga.

Trinamul sources said Amit Mitra is almost certain to head the finance ministry while Partha Chatterjee is likely to get either information and culture or an industry-related department such as power.

While Trinamul state president Subrata Bakshi is being named as a probable minister, it is likely that he will give up his Bhowanipore seat for Mamata within six months. Trinamul sources said Bakshi was expected to contest the Calcutta South parliamentary seat that Mamata will vacate.

For the Speaker's post, Mamata is weighing her options between either a minority community MLA and Biman Banerjee, the winner from Baruipur. The deputy Speaker's post is expected to be kept for the Congress.

"I want the Congress and the SUCI in the government. Ours is one big family. A family is happy only when everybody stays together," Mamata said immediately after the alliance emerged the winner.

Another change, another era: we walked, breathing free
Jyoti Basu addresses the rally after the Left's victory in 1977

Ajay Bose was 29 when Jyoti Basu stepped into Writers' Buildings for the first time as chief minister of Bengal. The CPM worker from Dum Dum harks back to the day he witnessed the birth of a 34-year-old red regime.

Who can forget June 21, 1977? The history books will say the Left Front government was sworn in that day. But for young Bengalis baptised in the Leftist cause, it was a day of liberation from the oppression we had suffered through the 1970s. Yes, I was among the thousands who had gathered in front of Writers' Buildings to welcome the new government.

Like many others in our locality, I had worked my heart out during the Assembly elections, organising street-corner meetings, pasting posters on walls and working as a polling agent on election day.

Before 1977, I was on the run for seven years to escape the clutches of goons and cops who were targeting youths sympathetic to Leftist ideology. I returned to vote in the Lok Sabha election that took place in March that year. I was able to cast my vote but many of my neighbours who reached the booth after 10am were told that the elections were over. That's how things used to happen in those dark days.

The Assembly elections in June, however, went off smoothly and there was a buzz that the Left Front was coming to power. Yet, no one could anticipate that it would be a landslide victory.

After the victory, we brought out a celebratory procession of around 5,000 people in Dum Dum but were asked not to go overboard or do anything that would give the party a bad name.

But there was no way we were going to miss the trip to Dalhousie Square on June 21 to witness the defining moment of that victory. Those days there were no chartered buses waiting to ferry us, as they do for rallies now. We took a city bus and got off at Curzon Park around 9am. The crowd had already started building up. Basu was to be sworn in at 10.30am at Raj Bhavan, from where he was to head for Writers' Buildings. We were glad we reached early. The road in front of Writers' was already packed. We chose a mound next to Laldighi from where we would get a clear view of the red building.

By the time the Raj Bhavan programme was over, the entire area was jam-packed. It took Basu and his cabinet colleagues an hour to cross the distance that takes five minutes. When at last we could see the vehicles approach, a roar went up. People were perched on branches of trees, huddled in verandahs of all adjoining buildings. Though many could not see, there were enough loudspeakers around to ensure that they could hear Basu's address.

Basu spoke briefly of what his government would do, punctuated by cheers. It was such a delirious feeling that even after he waved at us and went in, we did not go home. We walked and walked, breathing free after years of living in fear.

To governor with peace on lips

Calcutta, May 13: Victory marches can wait, now it was time to keep heads cool.

In her moment of triumph, Mamata Banerjee's message to the people of Bengal was peace as she reminded her supporters there should be no violence.

"This was the struggle of the people and it is their victory. No more dolotontro (rule of the party), but democracy. All of us have to work together for development," the Trinamul Congress leader said in her first address to the people.

It was around 11.50 in the morning, and the verdict was already clear. Her party, along with the Congress, was headed for a landslide win.

Peace was back on her lips when Mamata called on M.K. Narayanan at Raj Bhavan this evening — about five hours after Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had submitted his resignation to the governor — and requested him to invite her party to form the next government.

Accompanied by Trinamul secretary-general Partha Chatterjee, Mamata was closeted with Narayanan for about 20 minutes. "Mamatadi placed her claim before the governor for forming the government in Bengal as chairperson of the party. She also discussed the law-and-order situation with him and urged him to ask the caretaker government to take all steps to prevent violence," a Trinamul general secretary said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi were among the first to call Mamata as the trends became clear. Minutes later, the Trinamul chief stepped outside her 30B Harish Chatterjee Street office to greet the swelling crowd of supporters.

"The Prime Minister called up from Afghanistan and congratulated me. He is overwhelmed by our victory. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi too called up. Leaders from across the country have been phoning me…. This is democracy's victory. It is a historic verdict. If people hadn't supported us, it would not have been possible," Mamata said, comparing the victory with the "freedom struggle".

Mamata said the "arrogance and pride" of Left leaders had brought about their defeat. "People can be won over only by love."

The jubilant crowd erupted.

"Please be quiet," Mamata pleaded. "Let me speak."

She flashed a victory sign and went back inside her office, but not before saying a firm no to victory rallies. "Bijoy michhil akhon noy. Sab hoye jaoar por (only after everything is over)," she said.

Inside the crowded office, Mamata chatted briefly with media teams from Delhi. An hour later she emerged from the room once more. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had just called to congratulate her. A call came from Raj Bhavan too.

Inside the office, Mamata washed down muri with cups of tea as she repeated her promise to work out a new land policy for the state.

"There are lots of things to be done. I will have to find out first in what condition they have left the state. This will take seven days. Once this becomes clear, I can start working," Mamata said.

Sorting out the crisis in Jungle Mahal and the hills remain on her priority list. "It will take three months to sort out these problems," she said.

Talking to STAR Ananda, Mamata said: "You cannot force people to give their love. For years I have been with them. Not just on political matters but socially too. Whenever there was any trouble, I reached out to them. In those days there weren't so many TV channels and media. People have given me love. This is not a recent struggle."

Mamata also reached out to Bengal's youth. "I sincerely want the youth to stay in Bengal. This is their victory too. Let us take Bengal forward together. After this 35-year struggle, it is a challenge before all of us to rebuild Bengal," she said.

Mamata also wished her adversaries from the Left, including the outgoing chief minister, and sought their cooperation in running the government.

"I wish them well in their personal life, family life, ideological life," she said. " Bhalo thakun. "

CPM hunt for leader
- titans turfed out, party weighs two options

Calcutta, May 13: Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's defeat from Jadavpur has forced the CPM to start looking for a "suitable" candidate for the job of leader of the Opposition in the Assembly.

Reports coming out of Alimuddin Street suggest that outgoing health minister Surjyakanta Mishra could be the likeliest choice.

Mishra, who has won by 7,000-odd votes, is a member of the CPM's central committee and its state secretariat, the latter being the party's highest decision-making body in Bengal.

"Among the CPM candidates who have won, Surjya is the senior-most in terms of party rank," a senior CPM leader said.

"He is a state secretariat member and part of the CPM's policy-making process. He also has long legislative and ministerial experience. He can be the right choice for leader of the Opposition. We shall finalise our decision within a few days.''

Mishra is also believed to enjoy the confidence of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Another CPM leader said a second candidate too was in with a chance: outgoing land and land reforms minister Abdur Rezzak Mollah, who has won from Canning East by around 21,000 votes.

Mollah, who has been winning this seat since 1977, has been a vocal critic of the party leadership since the Singur and Nandigram controversies. He had publicly advocated early Assembly elections after the CPM was routed in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls.

"He (Mollah) has good relations with the new ruling dispensation. But the problem is that he is a loose cannon. So, it will be a bit of a risk to make him the leader of the Opposition," a CPM leader said.

"The party will be embarrassed if he shoots his mouth off frequently. Besides, he doesn't enjoy Surjya's rank."

Unlike Mollah, Mishra is not known to be "comfortable'' with Trinamul and Congress MLAs. He had kept his distance from them in the 2006-11 Assembly, and was seldom seen talking to the Opposition except while speaking on the health budget. He, however, could get the Assembly job in the absence of an alternative.

"It's true that Surjyada is not the gregarious kind. But there's no proper alternative. Let's see what Bimanda (party state secretary and Left Front chairman Biman Bose) and Buddhada have to say,'' a CPM state secretariat member said.

During the poll campaign, the buzz in the party was that outgoing housing minister Gautam Deb might get the leader of the Opposition's job if the Left lost the polls. The CPM had noted the huge crowds at rallies attended by Deb, who was being billed by the media as the party's "star campaigner''.

However, this possibility ended when Deb lost to the Trinamul Congress's Bratya Basu by 31,000-odd votes.

"There hasn't been any discussion in the Left Front today on the leader of the Opposition's post. So, no decision has been taken yet," Biman Bose said at Alimuddin Street.

SHE & HE: IN TWO STATES

At 10 past eight on the TV channel where I'm giving my tuppence of recently acquired insights, the scoreboard for West Bengal flicks its first number: 'Other' = 1, which is a lead for the BJP. Tamilian wiseman Cho 'Cartoon' Ramswamy is on the other link, wearing his white tilakand I realise I've forgotten to put on any war paint. Shortly, the other scoreboards start tripping and I'm reminded that Calcutta right now is the centre of the universe for only a few million people. I fight the temptation to dial mainline TV numbers and get out of the studio after my slot is over.

At Lake Market everything's like a normal morning. I notice the flower stalls have a large number of wreaths lined up, all made up from white flowers, and I wonder who will get them. In honour of the teeming millions of south India whose verdict will be heard today, I order some breakfast at Prema Vilas.

Waiting for my idli-dosa, I eavesdrop on two old gentlemen at the next table. 'CPM leading in the north, 10, and Trinamul in 6 here.' Says one man. 'Yes, those TMC ones are around Calcutta.' Replies the other man. 'The CPM's fight is still against America!' declares the first man and his friend nearly spits out his vada. 'America? How are you bringing in America today? Don't be silly!' I note Samuel Beckett's spirit is still alive and well in my city and get into the car.

By the time I reach the crossing of Park Street and Lower Circular Road from Lake Market — in all of 20 minutes — the game is sliding away very quickly. I've been planning to circle around Shyambazar before returning to the CPM's HQ in Alimuddin Street, but the information on the mobile instructs my good sense otherwise.

I get off at the mouth of Alimuddin Street and start walking towards the CPM party office. The last time I'd come here was the day after Jyoti Basu died and the atmosphere was far more cheerful then.

Outside the building the police are not even trying to look busy. Inside the gates, everybody, the press and party workers, all have the neutral expressions of people who want no truck with joy or sorrow. 'What is there?' their eyes seem to be saying, 'This happens. Everybody has to go sooner or later.'

As white Amby after white Amby turns in from the lane, the press crowd sizzles with manoeuvres; photographers take out their tension by shouting at each other; partymen snap at the photographers to move back when they've already moved back. The Ambys discharge nondescript Stalin-worshippers, who all walk into the office with their eyes dead straight. Not one journalist asks them anything, not one photographer lifts a camera. We're all waiting for Buddhababu to arrive. He's trailing by a thousand votes by now and the Tinno-jote is leading in 160-odd overall, in the state. It isn't even 10am yet.

When Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee does arrive the press swirl around him, making him the centre of a small typhoon. Within seconds he is inside the building, climbing those famous stairs and then out of sight. As we exit the gates, some cops who've been close to him talk sadly about having given him their last salute. Further down the street towards the main road, the Black-White uniform song is different: 'Bhaloi hoyechhey gechhey! Amader ke kokhono manusher moton dekhe ni!' Good they have gone, they never saw us as humans.'

A bit later, it's as if I've landed in another state altogether. From the mid-point of Harish Mukherjee Road you can see the roadblocks and the little gatherings of people waving TMC flags. At a small pandal, people are shouting as the tally lead changes on a Bangla channel. A completely green man thrusts a cup of tea in my hands and almost starts to cry. 'I'm 38,dada, and since I've had sense I've only known these people in power! Can you imagine what a day this is for me?'

I can imagine, but I don't need to. In the narrow lane in front of the DD house there is a huge press of green-hued humans. Dancing, singing, waving, men lifting grown, heavy women onto shoulders, other strong-looking women walking up and down, swaying, drunk without intoxicants, not knowing what to do with their elation. Green powder flies in the air, green powder carpets the street, green sweat trickles down cheeks, bare-bodied men spin around, covered in skin-paint, one nipple surrounded by an orange flower, the other by a green one.

There is 10 times as much press here than at Alimuddin, most of them teetering on a makeshift platform in front of the TMC office. It gets more and more difficult to move as you get closer to the office and, after a while, I give up. Except, to get out is also now near impossible.

Bizarrely, over the mad cacophony of drums and shouting, the loudspeakers waft Rabindrasangeet. Green sweat, orange sweat, white sweat, eyes glazed, a sea of smiling, grinning disbelief. I fight my way out of this chakravyuh of joy and get back to the car.

Half an hour later, crackling Rabindrasangeet still accompanies us, but in a quiet lane in Santoshpur.

'Nai, nai bhoy, hobey, hobey joy, khule jaabey ei dwaar…' No, there is no fear, there will, there will be victory, these doors will open.

Nirmal Ray and Lali Ray, two middle-aged Tinno workers, are pulling out huge hoardings that have been prepared days in advance. Photoshopped faces of Buddha, Biman and Gautam Deb in enlarged stills from the '80s Bangla Bachhan-starrer Anusandhan. The line above them is less than Rabindrik: Phete gelo, pheshe gelo Kaliramer dhol. Drum's burst, drum's worn out, Kaliram's drum. 'Eita aami mon-ey kori ekta mini-shaadhinota!' Says Lali. To me this feels like a mini-Independence.

We are invited upstairs into someone's flat: old red floors, neat, simple furnishings, and TV under a doily on which MamBan is addressing the nation in English. '…there will be the winning of the pippl!' She declares. Two minutes later, she switches to Bangla and instructs people to let new crowds through. 'Aapnara badi giye, chaan-taan korun!' You all go home and get a bath.

Thinking about drums, I remember a completely worn out drum I saw at the rally of marginal groups 34 days ago. No matter what happens now to the CPM's drums, I wonder how that protesting man's drum will get repaired.


Fresh start for former cops

The Trinamul candidate for Bally, Sultan Singh, reached the counting centre at Dumurjala stadium from his Salt Lake home with his daughter and two sons around 6am. By 6.30am, they were all seated inside the counting room.

Bally being a Left bastion, Singh was a bit tense. And the results of the first few rounds of counting showed it would be a neck and neck between the former IPS officer and the CPM's Kanika Ganguly.

By the afternoon, however, Singh had secured a lead of more than 5,000 votes. And by the end of the day he clinched victory by more than 6,000 votes. "The counting was delayed because of a malfunctioning EVM. The machine could not be opened and it took some time to set it right," said Singh.

He refused to leave the centre without the victory certificate and it took time coming. "The win has probably come as a surprise for them. So, they are finding it difficult to hand over the certificate," Singh's daughter laughed.

After the win, Singh said: "This is the first time in many years that Bally has seen free and fair polls."

The other former IPS officer in the fray in Howrah, Haider Aziz Safwi, who contested from Uluberia East, reached the counting centre at CIPT college on National Highway 6 at 9.30am. He was accompanied by his two sons.

By 10am, Safwi was leading by 3,500 votes but he was too cautious "not to comment right now". He finally defeated Mohan Mondal of the CPM by more than 19,000 votes.

The cellphone did not stop ringing through the day but Safwi seemed cool. "I am not tensed. Even if I lose I will take it in my stride," he said.

Safwi, however, was confident of Mamata Banerjee's victory. "There is no stopping her. Change is inevitable," he said.

'Victims of a rotten system'

It's being billed as a historic verdict to a historic election but I find myself curiously detached from the result or the implications, if any, it will have on the governance of the state.

And I am not a solitary soul inhabiting this land of blissful oblivion. For most people I know, life in Bengal has always been about putting up with the excesses of a rotten system and it always will be so.

I might be called a fatalist or a fool but I fail to see how the verdict of this election would affect my day-to-day life. The fact that I am neither a comrade nor a 'poribortonponthi' provides me with the privilege of looking at things objectively.

I, as an individual, would always be exploited by a corrupt system and a rotten political culture, irrespective of the party occupying the seat of power.

Over the last few decades, Bengal's reputation and credibility as an educational hub has been on the decline. This is owing to the fact that in a fast-paced world you need a minimum level of professionalism in the work culture of a state, which Bengal miserably lacks.

Moreover, for a student with academic aspirations, the sight of the members of the student wings of two political parties hurling bricks at each other on campus is not particularly attractive.

Hailing from a college (Presidency) known for student politics, I have seen enough to conclude that much of the student politics in Bengal, in recent times, is more an exhibition of tomfoolery than an expression of political consciousness.

The migration of thousands of students is not a testimony to the fact that Bengal doesn't have good colleges or learned professors. Rather, it proves that political vandalism, rather insanity, undermines the positive aspects and forces an Exodus to some Promised Land with better opportunities and a proper work culture.

The misuse of political power is not restricted to education. Every day, people are forced to disembark from moving buses or to hang on to the edge of the seat in an auto. Such risks have become a part of our daily existence. The faintest intention to protest is ruled out by a subsequent realisation of the larger political structure backing the auto driver or the bus conductor.

Under such circumstances, an ambitious youth is left to choose between "fight" and "flight". But, larger sections of the Bengal masses are so busy fighting among themselves that coming together for a common cause is just out of the question. That leaves the youth with only one alternative.

It is time we stopped fooling ourselves and seeking refuge in past glory. Instead of being herded by inept leaders, Bengal's masses need to stop "adjusting" and strive towards developing a proper work culture in the state.

We cannot deny that the callousness of this system partly arises from our own attempts to evade our responsibilities towards the state. That would, probably, give us a reason to be proud of our present and hopeful about the future.

(Saikat is an MA student at Calcutta University)

Voices on the wave
- Hour of change: Personal views on popular verdict

Name: Swastika Mukherjee

Occupation: Actress

Residence: Golf Gardens

How the verdict will affect Me: Personally, I wanted this change to happen and I am glad that my vote played a role in bringing about change. I am glued to the television set. Mamata Banerjee has said on every channel that this is the win of the common people. The new government has to prove that to us. Let us see what it does for us. I am sure the government will work for the betterment of the common people and since I am a part of the common people, my life too will change for the better.

Name: Dev

Occupation: Actor

Residence: South City Residency

How the verdict will affect Me: The verdict will not affect me in any way. Nothing is going to change in my life. I will follow the same routine that I have followed so far. The same shoot, gym, diet, home, reading scripts! Besides, the film industry is very apolitical and is not influenced by any party, at least that's what I feel. I just hope that the new government works for the people and makes West Bengal a better place to live in. They should make us proud to be Bengalis. There should be peace and joy and greenery.

Name: Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury

Occupation: Film-maker

Residence: South City Residency

How the verdict will affect Me: Even though I am from the entertainment industry, entertainment is not what I would like to talk about now. For me, the most important effect of the verdict will hopefully be in restoring the basic dignity of life — public health, education and nutrition. Let the general standard of living be raised first. That is what will make me the happiest and inspire me the most as a film-maker and then we can talk about the entertainment industry. Entertainment will happen anyway, but this is what will motivate me the most as a creative person — to see happier faces in Bengal; a sharbik unnayan (overall development).

Name: Sanjiv Goenka

Occupation: Industrialist

Residence: Alipore

How the verdict will affect Me: It should be business as usual, as they say. When an overwhelming number of people opt for a change, the change is usually for the better. When the government is infused with dynamism, the same spirit should also percolate through to the industry. Now is the time for business to put its best foot forward and help the new leader create a better Bengal. I continue to be committed to investing strongly in the state.

Name: Harshavardhan Neotia

Occupation: Industrialist

Residence: Ballygunge

How the verdict will affect Me: We have a new government after a very long regime and that too with a clear and decisive mandate. I hope that once the government is in place and the political uncertainties are over, the attention can once again be focused on growth and development. This will not only augur well for business but also provide opportunities to our people. Bengal had a rich tradition and some of the most talented people. It is time that we regain our premier place among the states of India. All effort should be made towards that end. I look forward to contributing in whatever humble way I can towards this endeavour.

Name: Agnimitra Paul

Occupation: Fashion designer

Residence: Gurusaday Road

How the verdict will affect Me: The verdict will affect my life only if the governance is good. It is time for Mamata Banerjee to deliver whatever she has promised. And her time starts now! As a fashion designer, I want her to help revive the dying textiles of Bengal and support the cause of weavers. Jute has to be revived. Mamata Banerjee can wear jute chappals instead of rubber ones! I also want to see Bengal regain its status of the cultural capital of the country. She should take care of the law and order and as a woman, be sensitive about the safety and security of those of her gender. She should also make sure that there are no bandhs on weekdays.

Name: Jhulan Goswami

Occupation: Cricketer

Residence: Dum Dum Park

How the verdict will affect Me: How can the verdict affect my life? My one and only job is to go out and play good cricket on the field and win matches for India. And I will keep doing that. As a responsible citizen, I had to vote, which I did, going all the way back to my home in Chakdah, Nadia. But beyond that, my involvement with politics is nil. May the new government do good for everyone. That's all I can wish for.

Name: Bibi Sarkar

Occupation: Restaurateur

Residence: Jodhpur Park

How the verdict will affect Me: My hope is that the new government will be more proactive towards the business community. That is what will affect my life the most. The Red government was very selective about who got what from it and I am anticipating a more 'normal' way of life. I worry though as the coffers are empty and even though the new government might have the best of intentions, I am not sure it will be able to fulfil them. I do think the attitude towards the business community is likely to improve, which will affect my life and business directly.

Just another day in office for this giant-killer

If he were the captain of a cricket team batting in the third innings of a Test, Manish Gupta would have been the type who would set himself a target to declare the innings and then bat on.

"I don't want to make a fool of myself," the former chief secretary said even as he stretched his lead over chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to around 11,000 in the battle for Jadavpur.

Gupta had been asked around 1.30pm if he thought that the moment when he could be christened David to Bhattacharjee's Goliath had finally come.

So circumspect was Gupta about his prospects even after the ninth round of counting that he appeared surprised when an aide informed him about the chief minister submitting his resignation to the governor.

"Why has he resigned? The result has not been declared yet," an aide quoted the Trinamul candidate as saying around 2.30pm.

Gupta had begun his day in much the same fashion, careful about anything he said or did, unwilling to let his guard slip even for a second. In his cream shirt and Allen Solly trousers, the retired bureaucrat challenging his one-time boss could have been mistaken for a stern returning officer rather than a candidate.

Gupta had reached the counting centre at the Institute of Education For Women in Hastings House, Alipore, around 7am. He was the first candidate to reach the centre.

He came and sat in a corner, tense and unwilling to so much as exchange a word with anyone other than an aide or a family member. Son Sivaji Gupta, who works in the telecom industry, was his counting agent at the returning officer's desk.

Around 9.30am came the first big surprise of the day: Gupta was leading Bhattacharjee by 810 votes after the first round of counting. By the third round, the lead was 5,000.

Could this be a huge upset in the making? You couldn't get a word out of Gupta.

Ninth round over, lead more than double, but still no luck with Gupta for the media contingent. "He will speak only after the result is declared," insisted a party member.

By 4.30pm, with 19 rounds of counting over, there was no holding back the Trinamul supporters despite their candidate maintaining the look of a meditating, er, Buddha. A large group assembled in the courtyard behind the counting centre, one of them carrying a poster that said: "Jadavpur has paid him (Bhattacharjee) back in his own coin."

When the result was finally declared — 16,684 being the margin of Gupta's victory — it was 6.20pm. Two machines from wards 96 and 110 getting locked midway through the counting process apparently delayed the result.

The machines could not be unlocked but the Election Commission decided not to withhold the result because the number of votes recorded — 1,506 — was less than the margin between the two rivals, according to Gupta's election agent Debabrata Majumdar.

Finally freed of his self-imposed gag, Gupta was typically understated in speaking about his giant-killing act. "He (Bhattacharjee) was just another candidate for me. I was not fighting a person. It was a fight between two ideologies: the Left and Trinamul."

Did he expect the victory? "By the time Calcutta went to the polls, I was confident of winning. Many people spoke to me during my campaign and I realised they wanted change. Buddhababu had done nothing for the constituency. In the last 10 years, the situation went from bad to worse."

At 7pm, Gupta got into his car to return home — almost as if it were the end of another day in office.

Green: colour of tea and triumph

Khardah was known for its Raas utsav and support for the Left. On Friday, the North 24-Parganas town shed one of its distinguishing features and donned new stripes.

Five-time MLA Asim Dasgupta might have had a foreboding of what was to come — a thrashing defeat — even before the counting began. For the first time since 1987, he did not visit the counting centre while his fate was being decided.

Victor Amit Mitra, in contrast, had turned up at the centre at Guru Nanak Institute of Dental Sciences and Research at 7.30am but waited for seven-odd hours before he flashed his first V-sign and agreed to pose for cameras.

It was 2.15pm and the election authorities had just announced that Mitra had won by around 26,000 votes.

Mitra's day began at 4am. "I ate two bananas and drank a cup of green tea for breakfast. Eating less and working more has been my mantra for years. It works," Mitra smiled after coming out of the counting centre on the third floor of the building.

Not just the bananas and the green tea, something else, too, has apparently worked for him. The winds of change.

After the results of the first round were out by 9am, Mitra was leading by 1,780 votes. At the end of the fifth round, the lead touched 8,000.

Did he expect to lead by such a huge margin?

"Yes, of course. I slept like a baby last night. Now you know why," Mitra, in a spotless white dhuti-punjabi, quipped.

"When I started campaigning in Khardah, to all the questions on development, education, health and industry, the residents would reply with a emphatic 'No'. It became clear to me right then that the people would vote for a change," Mitra said, his every word oozing confidence.

No one from the Left present on the counting centre premises could explain the absence of Dasgupta, who till the 2006 elections would always be seen camping with fellow cadres a few metres from the counting centre.

Dasgupta's confidential assistant Ganesh Dey had told Metro on Thursday: "Sir kaal dashta nagad counting centre-e jabenApni kaal shokale phone kore neben (Sir would visit the counting centre around 10am. You please contact tomorrow morning)".

The phone went unanswered when Metro tried to call him repeatedly on Friday morning.

The only one from the CPM who had put up a brave face at the counting centre was the party's North 24-Parganas secretary, Amitava Nandi.

"We have to take lessons (from the defeat)," Nandi said between answering calls, mostly from party leaders asking for updates.

Relaxed in win and gracious in defeat

A tiny room at 37G Padmapukur Road has been turned into a green room for Trinamul candidates Subrata Mukherjee and Sovandeb Chattopadhyay. This nondescript party office, sandwiched between a highrise and a tea shack, is where the duo will start their V-Day journey. This is where they will return shortly after noon, to be hugged, patted and bathed in green.

At 7.30 in the morning, the CPM candidate from Ballygunge, Fuad Halim, doesn't yet know what awaits him. His eagerness brings him to the counting centre at David Hare Training College early, smartly attired in a white shirt and black trousers.

"I am confident people will pick the best candidate," he tells Metro before disappearing behind a posse of security personnel.

A phone call at 9am to Subrata reveals he is still relaxing in his Ekdalia Park residence. "Yes, yes, I will turn up at the counting centre in a while. How many rounds have been counted till now?" he asks, almost as if it's just another election for him.

The fifth round of counting is underway, a polling agent confirms. The good news for Trinamul is that Subrata is trailing Halim only in the punctuality stakes, not in the vote count. "He was leading by 2,101 votes after the first round and has been increasing the gap since," says an aide.

Time for the man himself to make an appearance, and protégé Rajib Deb takes it upon himself to escort him to the centre.

Around 200 metres of the road in front of David Hare Training College is barricaded off and traffic narrowed down to single file. The pattern is broken when the assistant director-general of police and the commissioner arrive for an inspection. Budhia House, the Charles Correa bungalow beside the centre, and the military camp opposite remain detached from all the excitement.

The stretch also remains devoid of pedestrians except for Jahar Bagchi, an IIM-A alumnus and management teacher who lives nearby. "I took the day off from work to follow the results and walked down to find out how Subrata was doing. He came to our apartment complex for a meeting before the polls," he says.

It is not before 10am that the first two-wheeler with Trinamul flags makes an appearance. After that, it's a steady stream of cycles, bikes and cars, all carrying Trinamul supporters holding flags and chanting: "Jaygaye jaygaye jitche ke, Trinamulabar ke."

By 10.30 am, Subrata's lead increases to 25,000-plus. "It is a historic victory. It is victory for Maa, Mati, Manush. It is the victory of Mamata Banerjee. We will celebrate our victory peacefully. There will be no bijoy michhil (victory procession) today," declares Subrata, his face smeared with abir (coloured powder).

At Ballygunge Government High School, the soft-spoken Sovandeb is dividing his time between the counting centre and a group of supporters stationed outside. "Ekhane to machhi-o golte dichhe (They are not even letting a fly go past)," says Sovandeb. "I told the guards I am carrying green colour with me, I will smear you with it," smiles the veteran.

His wife is unwell, so Sovandeb appears a tad worried even as he awaits the result. But he can't resist a smile when his aide tells him that his son spoke well in a TV interview.

Rival Santanu Bose of the CPM is showing dignity in impending defeat. "I am trailing, but let's see how it goes," says the economics professor.

Later in the day, hordes of Trinamul supporters with flags converge on the Padmapukur party office, just about 100 metres from the counting centre. Subrata revels in the adulation, while Sovandeb does a round from Ballygunge Government High School to David Hare Training College, followed by a large contingent of supporters. By then, Sovandeb's lead is 49,994. "This is the biggest ever," boasts a supporter.

Why the young don't live here anymore
- What will be more difficult for Mamata Banerjee than toppling the Left Front government? Convincing GenX to stay back in Bengal!

Date: May 9, 2011

Place: Flurys on Park Street

Occasion: An adda on 'Bleak Bengal'.

The students: Esha Mookerjee (Bhawanipur Gujarati Education Society College), Kanika Issar (La Martiniere for Girls), Karan Kumar (Jain College), Lagnojita Chatterjee (Asutosh College), Pradipta Mandal (Jadavpur University), Roshni Ali (St. Xavier's College), Shrestha Saha (Presidency University) and Sneha Paul (NSHM College).[Chandreyee Chatterjee and Samhita of Metro steered the chat]

 

O FOR OPPORTUNITY

Roshni: I want to leave the city for my post-graduate studies because there are very few options here in my career of choice (journalism). There is just a handful of media houses; beyond them, nothing. I am also interested in film-making, but I want to make meaningful cinema. Here films are either too aantel or crass, no middle path. Mumbai, Delhi or even London would be better for either career option because there I would have more job opportunities. The work culture in those places is also different. People here are too lazy, I think. It annoys me. Here you need to make an appointment at 11.30am if you want to meet someone at noon. Only then will they be on time!

Kanika: Calcutta had everything that Mumbai had. Both cities were very important in the British era and have an inherent culture. But Calcutta lost out because of lethargy and the lack of infrastructure. There is no growth in this city, unlike in Mumbai or Delhi. So, anyone with the zeal to do something is opting out. Little things like cleanliness and road safety are totally absent in Calcutta.

Lagnojita: I love this city. It is home to me, and I would rather not leave. But I am studying psychology and it is really frustrating that all our reference books are at least 30 years old. So much is happening in my field, but if I stay in Calcutta, my options are restricted to teaching or working in the human resource sector. Otherwise, I have to take up a profession completely removed from the subject I am studying.

Kanika: I want to study psychology too and the options abroad are so vast. That's one of the reasons why I'm going to the US for graduation.

Lagnojita: There is this field called cognitive science — a mixture of psychology, math computer modelling etc. It is new to India but at least it is available in places like Allahabad University. But Calcutta University, supposed to be the best for psychology, does not offer it.

Roshni: One of my friends wanted to study sports psychology, which is really interesting and has huge scope now, but she is studying English in Loreto College because no college here offered that.

Sneha: I wanted to leave right after school but my mother didn't let me. Most of my friends have gone to Pune, Delhi and Mumbai to study courses that are available here too, but they opted to leave because the facilities in those colleges are so much better. The course structure is up-to-date and the books are more recent.

Shrestha: I will be forced out of the city simply because I want more options for masters. I find it ridiculous that in most Calcutta colleges, if you want to study economics youhave to take up math. Subject combinations are very limited here.

Esha: The mindset of people in Calcutta is so stereotypical. If you are studying humanities, people think it's because you have failed to get into the science stream!

Kanika: I think Calcutta is losing a lot of students to international colleges primarily because they give you two years to decide what subject you want to major in and there are no fixed options. You can opt for anything.

Pradipta: My reason for wanting to leave Calcutta is the ridiculously low stipend a student receives during MPhil and PhD here.

Karan: Forget all that. I am being forced to consider leaving the city because the course that I want to take up — event management — is not even offered here! My parents don't understand why I want to do that or what I will get out of it either.

Shrestha: That is another thing. Anything out-of-the box must be bad. Tourism management, event management — these are upcoming courses but no, it is new, so it must not be pursued! Another thing that I would like to mention about the education system in Calcutta is the lack of interaction between teachers and students. I mean, at the graduation level, you need to interact with teachers on a one-on-one basis. It happens in colleges outside the city. We just have teachers walking in and giving notes.

Roshni: Colleges here couldn't be bothered I think. If you are applying to colleges abroad they send you brochures, give you the contact numbers of people who will guide you. Nothing like this happens here.

Lagnojita: The website of our college stopped functioning a few days after admissions got over!

Kanika: Colleges here are not interested in the holistic development of students. They just fix a cut-off and then select on the basis of that. They hardly bother to find out what else one can do.

WORK & CULTURE! WHAT'S THAT?

Lagnojita: Here I think I would also like to point out that there is hardly any opportunity to work while you study. I wanted to do a project in line with what I am studying but I didn't even know where to start or who to approach.

Shrestha: My friend in Ramjas College in Delhi was telling me that they have guides to help students land an internship. There is no such system here.

Kanika: People looking for internship don't even think about getting one in Calcutta. For one, companies here don't want to take on interns and even if you do get one there are other problems like the work culture; no work gets done between 2pm and 5pm! A friend of mine who has finished his studies in the US has come back but his father won't even let him look for work here. Calcutta has become a place where people come back to retire, like an old-age home. It is perfect for older people but there is nothing here for us.

Roshni: I do street theatre and I can tell how different the culture in places outside Calcutta is. Young people there are far more involved in what they are watching and others are doing. There is a lot of unity among the youth. Here people just want to boo and jeer.

Lagnojita: The problem is every other city has used its culture to grow but Calcutta has just sat on it.

DOES ANYBODY CARE?

Kanika: That's true, even when it comes to architecture. I went to Mumbai on holiday and saw that they have beautiful old buildings there too but they are so well maintained. In Calcutta, there are some old buildings with really great architecture but they are lying derelict. People here just don't care… I also think we need to have some young faces in politics, to provide some dynamism and new ideas.

Shrestha: I don't know about that. We have two active parties in college and my first whiff of college politics was this whole mess about someone being drunk, someone complaining and someone beating someone up. I mean it was so pointless. There was a barricade in front of our college and people had to scale the wall to get to their departments. Classes were disrupted, students were misbehaving with teachers. Is this our culture?

Kanika: I want to say something about the Metro. We were the first city to get a Metro but we have not maintained it at all. We have not expanded or modified it.

Roshni: None of the big stars come to perform here, be it Enrique or Metallica.

Sneha: Ha! Most Hollywood films release here a month or two after the other cities.

Kanika: Yes, all the big stars go to Bangalore and Hyderabad. Calcutta has one Someplace Else and it has been there for years and there is nothing else. Even if there is a show, people who have the spending power will not buy tickets; they will all try to get free passes, so all the sponsored stalls are full and everything else is empty. Why would young people want to stay here? For recreation in Calcutta one can only go out to eat or to the movies. The parks cannot be used because they are filthy. There is no public place where young people can hang out.

Roshni: I have competed in swimming at the state level and I can tell you that the condition of our government pools — like Padmapukur or Rabindra Sarovar — is pathetic. The water is green and there are tadpoles and snails in it. The pools are better even in Lucknow, where I had gone to compete.

Karan: The Salt Lake stadium was supposed to be world-class. I went to play football there and tripped on a hole dug for erecting bamboo right on the ground.

Shrestha: I was in Delhi last year when the Metro construction was going on. I was so impressed to see that they were clearing the rubble immediately after finishing work on a portion, so that the roads were free. Have you seen the condition of Karunamoyee?

Kanika: It boils down to the attitude of the people here. They are so lax.

Pradipta: Well, I was "male" according to my voter ID and it took me a year of running around to get it changed to "female"!

Kanika: We should do something about the driving schools too. It seems you don't have to drive to get your licence! I shudder to think that this is where our taxi drivers get their licences.

Roshni: The corporation put some fancy-looking bins in front of our school (La Martiniere for Girls). But none of them had a base. So what you threw in just landed on the road. What is the point?

Kanika: Then there is our "international" airport. If you come in on an international flight, you realise that unlike Delhi or Mumbai, Calcutta has no decent duty-free zone, the conveyor belts are in a shambles, the trolleys don't work, the terminal is dirty and littered. It's embarrassing.




The KKR lesson
- Why the new government will have to turn the Knights' anthem backwards to rescue Bengal

After the celebrations die down, the new government will have to grapple with the onerous task of rekindling faith among the youths that Bengal can reclaim its fading glory, clamber back into India's Premier League of States after being relegated to the Second Division and offer hope for a brighter tomorrow.

The question is this: Can Bengal resurrect itself from the depths of despair like Shah Rukh Khan's Kolkata Knight Riders? The KKR took the scalpel to its problems: it changed its leaders, virtually sacked the entire team and restored the chest-thumping pride in the team's anthem — Korbo, Lorbo, Jeetbo Re — that had evoked derision for three years.

Can Mamata do the same for Bengal after three decades of Left rule?

Rajiv Gandhi once called Calcutta a dying city and recanted because of the howls of protest his comment evoked. But something more insidious has happened in the 30 years of Left rule: there's been the Great Exodus of young talent. The youths have been fleeing the state in droves — in search of higher education, better-paying jobs and a new way of life.

It isn't about criticism from outsiders anymore; it isn't about changing perceptions about Bengal in the minds of investors scouting for lucrative opportunities — at least not yet. Right now, it's about nursing a sclerotic state back to health and persuading the young — not the old — to stay back and have faith that Bengal can start winning again. It's about pride; and it's about fighting back.

It's about turning the KKR anthem backwards: Jeetbo, Lorbo, Korbo Re.

Jeetbo — she has done that. Now can she deliver on the other two?

Fix the economy

The biggest challenge for Mamata will be to set the fiscal house in order. Some plainspeak here: It's in a shambles.

Bengal today ranks with Kerala and Punjab as the only three states that are running a revenue deficit — that is, spending more than what they earn through taxes. It aggravates the problem with a fiscal deficit running at 3.8 per cent of its gross state domestic product (GSDP), which is one of the highest among the 17 categorised as general category states. Only Uttar Pradesh is worse off at 4.01 per cent.

Back in 2004-05, under pressure from the Centre, states had embarked on a rigorous regimen to bring about a modicum of fiscal rectitude. At that time, only four states - Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh - had a revenue surplus. Three years later, 14 states had achieved a revenue surplus, displaying the kind of discipline they had never shown before. The three profligates were Bengal, Kerala and Punjab.

There's more: in 2004-05, 11 of the 17 frontline states had a fiscal deficit exceeding 3 per cent of the GSDP — which has been set as the ideal goal. By 2007-08, that number was down to five. The recalcitrant states were Goa, Kerala, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal.

Bengal — along with Sikkim — did something worse: they set their face against the belt-tightening ritual that other states were adopting by refusing to pass a fiscal responsibility legislation that would have committed it to deep spending cuts.

The 26 states that enacted the legislation were entitled to a combined interest relief on loans taken from the Centre of about Rs 3,000 crore in the each of the five years since 2005-06. They also qualified for limited loan waivers as an incentive to follow the path of fiscal correction. Since Bengal chose to be the renegade, it lost out on these benefits.

It was only last year that Bengal enacted the legislation when it realised it could not afford to lose out on the course-correcting funds.

The Left's profligacy leaves Mamata with the hard task of bringing its deficits under control.

The global recession in 2008 had forced a pause in the fiscal consolidation process for two years. The fiscal tightening will resume in 2011-12 — which means Mamata is actually getting into the hot seat just when the belt-tightening resumes.

The first test will be in being able to meet the immediate target of reducing the revenue deficit this year to 1.6 per cent in line with the recommendation of the Thirteenth Finance Commission.

Since Bengal faces a double whammy in deficits — a revenue deficit that currently stands at above Rs 16,000 crore and a fiscal deficit above 3 per cent of the GSDP — it will get more time to put its house in order. Bengal must eliminate its revenue deficit by 2014-15.

Bengal's revenue deficit as a percentage of gross fiscal deficit at 83.9 per cent is the highest among all states.

It will also have to cap its fiscal deficit at 3 per cent by 2013-14 — giving it a special, two-year extension of the deadline set for the other states.

Saumitra Dasgupta

Bank blight

If credit advanced by the banking sector is any indicator of a state's economic prowess, Bengal ranks way behind other states.

The statistical appendix of the Bengal government's own Economic Survey (2010-11) reveals that the state has a much lower credit-deposit ratio — the percentage of loans advanced in relation to the deposits mobilised by banks in the state — than industrially advanced states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Bengal also ranks lower than agriculture-based states such as Kerala, Punjab, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

The Left Front has consistently slammed the banks for being tardy in providing credit to the state while being aggressive in raising deposits from the people in the state.

In their defence, the banks have always maintained that they would love to lend more but there isn't a great appetite for credit in the state.

"Over the years, Bengal has become more dependent on agriculture. Unlike Gujarat and Maharashtra, there hasn't been a great deal of industrialisation in this state. Moreover, the people in Bengal in particular are more savings-oriented and averse to borrowing. That's why almost all banks have a very high percentage of CASA (current account and savings account) deposits. All these translates into a lower credit-deposit ratio in the state," said a senior official of United Bank of India, the lead bank in the state-level banking committee in Bengal.

In rural Bengal, people have low credit absorption capacity because of small and fragmented landholding, say officials of the National Banking for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard).

"To improve the credit absorption capacity of people in the agriculture sector in the state, we have been promoting joint liability groups here, which is Nabard's first such initiative in the country," said N.S.P. Rao, chief general manager, Nabard.

"Under this scheme, eight to 10 small and marginal farmers can come together and form a joint liability group so that it becomes convenient for commercial banks to lend money against land securities of such groups," he added.

Landholdings in the state have become smaller and fragmented, with a lot of land lost in separating individual landholdings after the land reforms initiated by the Left.

Visitors to the state often express surprise that if Bengal is really an agricultural state, why don't they get to see any tractors on the farms. The truth is that the landholdings have become too small to allow for mechanisation, thereby reducing the credit absorption capacity of the small and marginal farmers.

In the early eighties, the state was rocked by agitation when bank employees had vehemently opposed automation in the industry. If those Luddites had their way, the benefits of core banking and the ubiquitous ATMs would never have happened.

Calcutta was the home of the Imperial Bank of India — the precursor to the State Bank of India. Over the years, there has been a steady erosion in its importance as a banking centre. Almost a decade ago, the SBI had created a stir when it shifted its prestigious foreign exchange department and the entire process of balance sheet preparation to Mumbai.

Srikumar Bondyopadhyay

Just a dribble

Investors have poured more promises than money into Bengal. The state has a pretty poor strike rate when it comes to converting investment intentions into actual projects.

To be fair, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had pulled out the stops and actively sought investments in the state after winning the Assembly elections with a record majority five years ago.

The big-ticket investment that generated as much hype as heat was Ratan Tata's Nano project, which was announced just four days after the Left Front's electoral triumph in May 2006.

Within a year — and after wresting a fistful of concessions — the Nano project ran into a gridlock sparked by frenzied protests over land acquisition at Singur.

There was a clutch of other big investment proposals — notably Indonesian Salim Group's chemical hub, Sajjan Jindal's JSW Bengal, the Bhushan Steel plant, and Videocon's steel and power combo — that held out the promise of creating jobs and igniting an industrial renaissance in the state. But none of these projects has got off the ground.

The Nano pullout and agitation over land acquisition spoiled the party for Buddha's fervent industrialisation drive. Two large projects made some headway in the last five years — an airport city project at Andal, Burdwan, by a consortium where Changi is a strategic investor and a gas-based fertiliser plant by the Matix Group.

Most of the prospective investors have put their projects on hold, waiting to see how the post-poll situation plays out.

Local entrepreneurs, who understand the situation on the ground a lot better, have pressed on with their plans. For instance, CESC is all set to build a power plant at Haldia. Harsh Neotia has set up a business park, a new hotel at Rajarhat and is planning a few more in the hills.

Those who had invested over the years have also expanded operations: Haldia Petrochemicals, Mitsubishi PTA, and Indian Oil Corporation. Bengal became the largest beneficiary of the Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) expansion programme that virtually rebuilt Burnpur Steel Plant, formerly IISCO, and made a significant investment in Durgapur. SAIL will also build an iron nugget plant at Alloy Steel Plant.

The question that everyone will ask sooner or later is this: Will the new government be able to drum up investment after Mamata's campaign to scuttle the Nano and the chemical hub projects? And will the dust settle on the land acquisition debate quickly enough to persuade investors to put their money where their mouth is?

Sambit Saha

Signal weak

July 31, 1995, will go down as the red-letter day that marked India's tryst with the mobile revolution. That's the day that Bengal's then chief minister Jyoti Basu made the first cellular mobile call when he hooked up with telecom minister Sukh Ram — and Calcutta became the first metro to have a cellular network.

In today's world of choked airwaves and the frustration over dropped calls, it's hard to imagine the breathless excitement that Basu and Sukh Ram had sparked on Modi Telstra's MobileNet cellular network with clunky handsets.

Communists love talking about revolutions but it must be fair to say that even Basu had no idea then of the revolution he had ignited with that call from Writer's Buildings.

Modi Telstra had lashed together some telecom equipment to be able to patch through the first mobile phone call in India even as rivals in Mumbai and Delhi were still struggling to put together their network.

The telecom tsunami has seen the mobile subscriber base in the country swell to 811.5 million, making it the fastest growing market in the world.

By March 1997, the Calcutta circle had built up a subscriber base of 37,982 — when Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh had managed to scrape together between 4,000 and 6,000 subscribers each.

Cut to 2011: the headstart that Bengal had made over the rest of the country has fizzled out.

Calcutta still ranks as a Metro circle along with Mumbai and Delhi but the revenues that the circle generates compares poorly even against Bihar, leave alone the other top revenue-generating circles such as Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

Vodafone Essar is the biggest player in Calcutta but it could crank up revenues of only

Rs 172 crore in October-December 2010 — the latest quarter for which figures are available. In contrast, Bharti Airtel eked out Rs 533.59 crore from Bihar in the same period.

The mobile subscriber base has swelled to around 23.2 million in Calcutta as of March 2011 and 29.6 million in the rest of Bengal.

The early laggards had all streaked ahead: Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra have a subscriber bases of between 47 million and 70 million. They also have big spending customers with higher average revenue per user (ARPU).

Vodafone Essar has the highest ARPU in Mumbai at

Rs 256.92 while Bharti Airtel ekes out Rs 217.40 in Delhi. In contrast, both Vodafone Essar and Airtel get an ARPU of just over Rs 145 in Calcutta and must remain content with Rs 90 to 100 in West Bengal.

The 3G spectrum auction was another clear indicator of how the telecom companies read the various markets. Mumbai and Delhi secured bids of more than Rs 3,200 crore each. The three southern circles of Karnataka, Andhra and Tamil Nadu were lumped close together between Rs 1,300 and 1,600 crore. A little way back were Maharashtra (Rs 1,257 crore) and Gujarat (Rs 1,076 crore).

Calcutta trailed in after them at just Rs 544 crore (just ahead of Uttar Pradesh west at Rs 514 crore).

Jayati Ghose