Monday, October 1, 2012

Blooming Blunders of Bengal

I was in school then. My father was carefully ingraining in me the habit of newspaper reading and the one debate I recall from those days was about computerization. The ruling left was vehemently opposing the impending entry of computers in the work place – their “pro people” logic being that the computers will eat away millions of jobs, forcing the state into the jaws of poverty. There were bank strikes, and bundhs and pen downs. Rally’s were held, processions were taken out. Slogans were raised and vitriol spread, taking the pitch to a crescendo. Such was the din that the lone voice of sanity was lost. But on parting, it sealed the fate of the state, pushing it into the backwaters of apathy as the rest of India marched on.

It looks so childish in hindsight. Politicians putting petty politics above the interest of the state and the people, whose interest they profess to fight for. An attempt to look at economics through the eyes jaundiced with communism. To embrace populism that in the long run is bound to be anti people. To shout at the top of the voice but say precious little that makes sense.

Today when I hear the argument against FDI in the retail sector, I see the parallels clearly – of history repeating itself. The left, hoist in its own petard is still on the red corner of defeatist dissent. That there are no takers for their argument is a different thing. But what stuns me is the strident stand taken by the State Government. Strapped for cash it should have gone all out to attract the investment which has the potential of being the magic wand. Instead it is out to prove that they are more leftist than the left.All for the thatrical sake of it.

With rising food and vegetable prices being one of its primary concerns, the Government could have deftly used the opportunity to cut through the swathe of brokers who eat away the cream while the two ends – the farmers are denied remunerative prices and the consumers pay through their noses – suffer. Being closely associated with PepsiCo, I have had the pleasure of watching in wide eyed wonder how the entry of the MNC’s can transform the grassroots and help spread prosperity. I have seen with my own eyes how just one Frito Lay’s factory transformed the way even farmers thought about harvesting potatoes, in Bengal itself. It is there for all to see and I do not believe that the Government is blind and cannot read the writing on the wall.

Walking the other way, the Government is now proposing to open Kisan Mandis where farmers can put up their produce for auction. It is nothing but the failed effort of the earlier left regime’s desperate ploy to put stilts of communism on their eyes to arrest price hike, albeit in a new bottle. Forget about the mechanisms, the very fact that the state will not have enough money to open such mandis is enough to make it a non starter. As a matter of fact, the move to scale down the number of such mandis has already begun and the Government will do well to quietly scrap it. It is good to make such promises in the election manifestos. It is a completely different thing to be foolhardy enough to try and implement them. Who reads manifestos of political parties in any case?

I am alarmed by the signs. The Hon. Chief Minister seems to be selecting the path of defeatist nihilism that was popularized by the communists. As she prepares to gather political brownie points by upping her ante against the Center and its economic policies - shouting about the state being deprived in mock protest; history in indeed repeating itself. Albeit, in the greater context of change and under a new banner. But the sad fact remains – the political shenanigans and blind brinkmanship will only push the state on the path of economic destruction. But who cares?  

- Chawm Ganguly 

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