She stops to conquer

NAT
The drama over the Railway Budget didn't come as too much of a surprise for Trinamool watchers. This is a party that runs on diktat and Mamata Banerjee has never pretended otherwise. Her insistence on sacking Dinesh Trivedi after he presented his Budget is further proof of her authoritarian ways, something that's on regular display in the state where she is Chief Minister.

After the debate on FDI in retail, where her party stalled the government's executive order, a couple of Trinamool MPs came close to resigning when Mamata made a virulent attack on her colleagues, alleging that they failed to make a forceful submission in Parliament on the issue. The Trinamool MPs say they did their bit in the House by lodging a protest on the FDI issue though there was no prior briefing from Mamata over the stand they should take in Parliament. But Didi was clearly not happy with the degree and intensity of that 'protest' and the result was a thorough dressing down of the MPs. The same disconnect between Mamata and her MPs was evident on the issue of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre and it was only after Naveen Patnaik raised the matter that Didi lent her voice to the federalism pitch.

The authoritarian

At home in West Bengal, there were a number of such instances when Mamata's colleagues realised they were not on the same page as the Chief Minister. For example, there was an open conflict in the stands during the February 28 industrial strike, when Mamata threatened to cut salaries of those who skipped work. State Education Minister Bratya Basu, himself a professor, dissented, saying teachers had the right to not attend school on a strike day. To ensure that the Chief Minister's diktat prevailed, the education department issued a show-cause notice against the absentee staff. The tiff dragged on to a closed-door meeting that Basu held with the Chief Minster at Writers Buildings. Even before the meeting ended, policemen were sent from the Chief Minister's Office to communicate to the waiting media that the Education Minister will have nothing to say, ostensibly pre-empting any move by Basu to voice his dissent openly. As of now, the dissent is corked up tight and no one wants to talk about it—most of them realise that they owe their victory to Mamata's portrait on the walls.

What has begun to surface is the total lack of democratic structure within the party—only the supremo has a voice here. After the Park Street rape case, Mamata described the incident as "false" and said it was designed to malign her. So when the police cracked the case, she summoned the entire top brass. The glum faces of the officers who emerged out of her chamber were hard to explain, since it came after a job well done. Worse, Mamata got two of her top-most officers, who had been lauded in the media for their role in solving the case, to address the media from the Chief Minister's Office and assert that the credit for cracking the case goes to the team and not to individual officers.

The nerves are taut, the air tense. The most familiar scenes for the media covering the state secretariat are of bureaucrats and ministers with folded hands asking to be spared any queries. Over the past nine months, a number of her "friendly" media has turned hostile, but Mamata could not care less. She has a select group of vernacular channels to communicate her views while the majority of others, including the national ones, have been sidelined, making it evident that she is happy to address her local constituency rather than pitch for a bigger canvas.

Mamata's periodic stock-taking exercise with her ministers and bureaucrats at Town Hall has become a nightmare for most of them. Sources say these meetings more often than not end with a dressing down of the officers in front of the ministers and vice versa. Most ministers and secretaries do not have any access to the Chief Minister's Office, unless they are summoned. A top official of the home department finds himself bypassed on critical issues relating to land and order. Most IAS officers have to take orders from Gautam Sanyal, the secretary to the Chief Minister who is an officer from the central secretariat pool. "It is the roll-call of individual officers and ministers by Madam that has become most frightening. During the Rising Bengal campaign, she tried this roll-call with foreign dignitaries and industrialists but that did not go down well with them," says a senior bureaucrat.

Bad Business

The government-industry interface is mired in doubts and suspicion. "I want industry here, but not industry that kills people. A murderer's identity is that of a murderer, a terrorist is a terrorist. I cannot pardon someone on grounds that the person has a different identity," Mamata had said after the AMRI fire when FICCI, in a statement, sought the release of the hospital's arrested directors. FICCI felt Mamata's reaction was "anti-industry" and that the actions taken were not "completely non-discriminatory."

The FICCI row finally degenerated into an unseemly campaign within the business community in Kolkata that the government was drawing a distinction between Bengali and non-Bengali businesses. This was fuelled by reports that non-Bengali businessmen were being forced to employ Bengalis and that they were facing extortions, though Mamata has announced from public platforms that the industry should not pay "a single paise" to anyone extorting money in the name of Trinamool cadres.

In the past nine months, the Trinamool government has been checkmated by its own policies while attracting fresh investments. The Infosys stalemate is a case in point. The IT major wants an SEZ status for its Bengal project but the state cannot allow this because of its stated opposition to the idea. "The government is working out an alternative solution," says State Industries Minister Partha Chatterjee.

On the other hand, Binod Hampapur, Senior Vice-President, global head (Commercial and Corporate Relations), Infosys, said after a meeting with Chatterjee recently that any model the state offers has to be financially viable for Infosys's operations in Bengal. A worried Chief Minister, while reiterating her party's stand against SEZ, said a couple of days ago that the state government was willing to push the Centre to grant SEZ status to Infosys based on the recommendations of the earlier Left Front government.

But officials in the industry department say everyone, including the top bosses, is wary of presenting an alternative strategy to deal with the Infosys problem for fear of being seen as making a move before Mamata.

Inaugurating the West Bengal Budget session on Thursday, Governor M K Narayanan said a core committee had been constituted "to facilitate industry-government interaction for rapid industrialisation in the state".

But in reality, the industry core committee is virtually defunct with many of the projects—Matrix Fertiliser & Chemical Ltd at Panagarh Industrial Park and Tractors India Ltd (TIL) at Vidyasagar Industrial Park—a continuation from the Left regime. An industry member of the committee said meetings have boiled down to an adda of tea, coffee and snacks, with industrialists pushing for a waiver of land-ceiling limits.

The new government's balance sheet increasingly appears one of promises stacked against little work on the ground. Sabyasachi Basu Roy Chowdhury, professor of Political Science at Rabindra Bharati University, says, "In the Communist party, it is the apparatchik who decides; in the Trinamool, it is one individual. All these point to a total lack of coordination. This is a new phenomenon in parliamentary democracy."

Mamata's whimsical decisions

As CM, Mamata's first announcement was that no government agency would acquire land for industry. It has upset/stalled a large number of projects.

Within a fortnight of assuming office, Mamata decided to play Rabindra Sangeet at all traffic signals in Kolkata.

As part of her dream to convert Kolkata into London, Mamata decided to paint all bridges, railings, lampposts in sky-blue.

Last month, her government decided to appoint 2,000 ex-servicemen to vacant posts of constables in the city police.

In December last year, her government set up a Staff Selection Commission for recruitment of group D posts even though the state has a specialised West Bengal Public Service Commission.

Got state police to issue an order restricting the police from using firearms during law and order trouble.

Cooperatives Act to be amended soon so that properties of farmers who default on their loan are not attached.

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