Friday, September 21, 2012

Manmohan, Mamata and Multi Brand Investment in Retail

Even as I write this piece, the pillars of the 2nd UPA Government are closeted in the PM’s residence, ostensibly discussing TMC supremo Ms. Mamata Banerjee’s decision to withdraw support to the Government. I use the term “ostensibly” on purpose, for I don’t think that the powers that be in Delhi will suffer any serious heartburn at her decision. On the contrary, I won’t be surprised if I hear a collective sigh of relief. A kind of a “good riddance” feel, as with her penchant for populism gone, the much needed and eagerly anticipated reform process can be pursued in right earnest. The Government can go back to governing as opposed to pacifying partners and the compulsions of coalition will be just that bit less heavy.

But why did “Didi” do what she did? Her detractors are laughing in mock disgust, pointing out the unpredictable nature of the lady and her habitual, theatrical over reaction. But contrary to what these political wimps of Bengal may be saying, what she enacted was a carefully scripted, deft political masterstroke and there are underlying reasons of saying so:

01.   The Congress High Command, time and again, treated her with a disdain that she did not deserve considering her stature as a coalition partner. It reached the flashpoint over the election of the President and acted as the proverbial last straw when her warnings fell on deaf ears this time around. The sentimental stormy petrel could weather the ignominy no more.

02.   The vote bank that Mamata Banerjee caters to – the poorest of the poor, marginalized farmer, worker and minority do not understand the compulsions of opening the doors to foreign investment in the retail sector. They haven’t even heard of Walmart and are least bothered about its impending entry. To them the message, that their ultimate savior Didi is willing to sacrifice anything and everything to oppose price hike so that may breathe that much easy, is what she will communicate.

03.   Her main opposition the CPI (M) has already taken to the streets in opposition. By walking out she will be blunting their edge and immediately elevate herself to a “holier than thou” status. To steal CPI (M)’s thunder to her is a far more relishing than being part of the Center.

04.   With the Panchayet elections just round the corner, she just could not give up on such an opportunity to refurbish her image as the Messiah of the poor.

05.   UPA 2, like all sequels of blockbusters has been a damp squib so far. What is more, it has been riddled with rampant corruption and a general state of apathy and indecisiveness. By being a part, Mamata Banerjee would have run the risk of sharing a part of the blame. She has deftly ducked the muck that the opposition threw towards her and can now go back to doing what she does best – opposing and protesting. Being in the ruler’s seat in Bengal she needed someone to constantly shout against – with no opposition warranting her attention in the state, she can now focus her ire on the Center.

06.   The 2014 elections too are likely to end in a stalemate with no side having a deciding majority. In such a scenario, TMC, which hopes to have a sizeable number of MP’s in its kitty may well emerge as the tilting factor. Wooed by both sides, she can not only play king maker, but well become the Queen herself. It’s not as farfetched as you think. If Aravind Kejriwal and Ramdev Baba can nurse the dream, Mamata Banerjee is far well placed and well suited to turn it into a reality.

07.   She has another hidden agenda behind such a move. She has taken into consideration the possibility of a vengeful Congress to play its cards. It will try either to starve her by cutting supplies to the state or to break her by engineering defections from her party. In either case she stands to win. The first scenario will help her further weaken the CPI (M) as she will yank their petard of “Center’s Step Motherly” attitude and may even make her emerge as the leader of the opposition ruled CM’s. In the second scenario, she will get the chance to “purge” her own stable as prominent disgruntled leaders like Somen Mitra, Dinesh Trivedi, Sudip Bandopadhyay and a few others can be replaced with kitchen loyalists without a base making her hold even more stronger.

08.   The Congress party in her state is already a political non-entity. By training her guns at the Center, she can further aid the process of its total annihilation and obliteration.

09.   Sacrificing the milch cow of the Railways may well become her trump card as she goes on to paint her image as the true beholder of the legacy of the “Saint of the Gutters”, Mother Teresa. Painting the town blue and white, reminiscent of the uniform of order that the holy Mother initiated - the Missionaries of Charity – was not getting her the desired effect and she feels, this move will surely reap its rewards.

10.   It is a pyrrhic victory though. Mamata’s win may well spell doomsday for the state. The treasury is already bankrupt. Industry is weary of investing fresh capital. Her adamant stand against price hike of any sort is already corroding the innards. The legacy of three and half decades of misrule that she inherited is cropping its ugly head. Poverty and unemployment is making crime rates to zoom. The real problems lie un-addressed.

What then is the gain from all this? Precious little, too late. But how does it matter? We deserve the politicians we vote to power. Why even waste time? This is a classic case of the There Is No Alternative (TINA) factor in play. It holds true for the Center. It holds true for the state. End of Story.

- Chawm Ganguly

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