It is exactly a year since Mamata Banerjee created history in Bengal by dislodging the Left Front from power, after 34 long years of uninterrupted rule. Almost as if the visit was timed to mark the anniversary, Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, came to Calcutta earlier this month and called on the Chief Minister.
It was the first time since Independence that a US Secretary of State had visited Bengal. Clearly, Mrs Clinton understood the significance of Mamata's momentous achievement in defeating the mighty Marxists. That, and perhaps the realisation that owing to Mamata's clout in UPA-II the road to Delhi goes through Calcutta, made the US leader break journey during her Dacca-Delhi trip.
Twelve months after she trounced the Marxists, her victory remains by far her most remarkable achievement and the only one of note. Nobody who lived in Marxist Bengal in the last quarter century believed that the Left Front rule would end in a hurry. It was almost like the Raj before World War II. Not many Indians of that era thought the British rule would end in their lifetime. But the unthinkable happened. In a similar vein, Mamata made the unthinkable come to pass.
It was, then, by any reckoning a famous victory. A year later, Robert Southey's The Battle of Blenheim comes to mind. " 'Twas a famous victory" is a refrain in that poem. A verse in the poem goes, "But what good came of it at last?" That is precisely what more and more people are asking today after 12 months of Trinamool-Congress rule in Bengal.
Her tenure as Chief Minister, so far, has been undistinguished. Personally, she is widely seen as obdurate, obstructionist, populist, mercurial, dictatorial and the in-house enemy of the UPA-II at the Centre. It did not come as a surprise to see that in a CEOs' Poll conducted by the Economic Times recently, as many as 25 out of the 50 CEOs polled identified Mamata Banerjee as the biggest stumbling block to growth. This in an atmosphere of gloom and doom when the India growth story is seen as going nowhere.
Meanwhile, another business leader, who also happens to be richest Indian in the world, Lakshmi Mittal, minced no words last week when he was asked about Mamata by an Indian journalist in London. "I am very annoyed that she only arrested Marwaris and no Bengalis after the hospital fire. Please carry that," he shot back.
The allusion, of course, was to the aftermath to the tragic fire at Calcutta's AMRI Hospital this winter when her Government seemed to selectively arrest only the non-Bengalis among the corporate hospital's directors. The earlier leftist dispensation was accused of many things, but never of parochialism. It was an ill-advised move that may cost Mamata and the Bengal economy dear.
And this was only one among several of her moves and statements that have invited criticism within the state and outside. These have been widely publicized and need not be repeated here. What has not been publicized is the good that her government may have done for her benighted state. This analyst cannot think of anything significant beyond peace in the Darjeeling Hills in North Bengal and Jangalmahal in South Bengal. Not surprisingly, many of her supporters are beginning to wonder if this alone was the poribartan (change) that she had promised during her Herculean struggle to unseat the Left. In the stirring words of Faiz Ahmed Faiz (spoken in the context of Independence), "Jiska intezaar tha humko / Yeh woh subah to nahi (That which we which we longed for / This is not the dawn)." She delivered Bengal from decades of Marxist rule, but has offered little else after that.
And yet there seems to be a method to her conduct. Focus and determination are the qualities that contributed the most to her success in the struggle against the Marxists. That focus and determination seem to mark what seem to be her twin objectives now -consolidating her political platform and securing a rescue package from the Centre to revive the state government's financial health.
It is clear from all her political positions that she is determined to not yield ground to her bte noire, the CPI(M), on any issue that touches the lives of the populace. In doing so, she has managed to out Herod Herod and sought to capture the Left's position on every such issue- nuclear power, price rise, FDI in retail, petro & diesel prices... The upshot: she can claim to represent the voice of the people and two, she has not given any opportunity to the Left to either criticise her on any of these issues or attempt to make a comeback in the popular imagination.
If she has appeared to be the UPA's own worst enemy, it is her way of exerting pressure on the Centre to give her government the much sought after financial lifeline. If that is not extended soon enough, expect more fireworks from her, more stonewalling and more opposition to central policies.
It appears, therefore, that she wants to first consolidate her own political position and place her government on a stronger wicket before she turns her energies to addressing the myriad issues concerning the state's governance and development.
Likewise, her thinking appears to be that it is only when her government acquires a certain modicum of financial comfort will it be in any position to deliver on anything. This may well be true on paper for the exchequer is indeed empty and the interest burden is killing (blame Marxist misrule for this woeful state of affairs).
However, time is not on her side. She has lost an incredible amount of goodwill and disillusionment has set in at a pace that should worry her. She must retrieve lost ground quickly, begin regaining reputation, address some of the angularities in her personality and, above all, address the crying needs of her state in the areas of investment and industrialisation.
And the way to do this is not by antagonising Calcutta's Marwaris. They stood by Bengal in its darkest days (for the state is home to them too) and they can contribute the most by way of native entrepreneurship in the state's quest for economic revival.
(Public affairs analyst Vivek Sengupta is Founder and Chief Executive of the consulting firm Moving Finger Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)