What is wrong with the idea of Mamata Banerjee as a Prime Ministerial candidate? The 1996 experience shows that nothing is impossible in politics. It is full of uncertainties. Improbables like Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral also became Prime Minister. Given this, it should not be surprising if it is hoped that Mamata Banerjee too will become Prime Minister of this country. For such a scenario it is important that in West Bengal she wins more than 30- 35 seats and gets some seats in North and North East India. In such a situation her Trinamool Congress can be the third largest party after the Congress and the BJP.
Rounds of promises and claims have begun. Claims are being made ranging from Bharat Nirman to making India another Gujarat. A test of strength, a tug of war to is on to project oneself as the biggest ‘contractor’ of people’s hopes, people’s feelings. But the biggest question : have any of these claimants asked the people what they want, what are their needs? Be it Rahul or Narendra Modi, who have got Vision Documents drafted by ‘development’ economists – have they ever tried to find out from the people what kind of development they want – big malls, gleaming roads, flyovers, sprawling buildings coming up on the lands of farmers, or do they want a respectful life by cultivating their own land and creating employment?
However, in this election the two major political parties of the country, particularly the BJP, are making corruption an issue, even though for them corruption means only corruption in the Congress.
Throughout the country they are showing golden dreams of implementing Narendra Modi’s Gujarat model of development. It is a different matter that the Gujarat model of development does not cover all the people in Gujarat. The condition of Rahul Gandhi or the Congress is such that if they want to speak, what can they speak? But, because political demands say that something must be said, they too are speaking of development and zero tolerance towards corruption. But amidst all this, what do the people want, no one feels the need to discuss that. The country’s middle class too, which is enjoying certain facilities, obviously does not want to do anything which will affect its enjoyment of those facilities. For instance, its concern is about the paying the instalments for its houses and cars. Its concern is the growing school fees for children’s education, expensive electricity and water.
But what about those who leave alone a car, have no home of their own, no clean drinking water? Who have to go thousands of kilometers away from their homes to earn a living? What about the seventy per cent people who have to subsist on daily earnings of less than Rs. 20? What about those who do not even have land for cultivation? It is obvious that neither Narendra Modi nor Rahul Gandhi are talking about how to fulfill the needs of these crores of people. There is a need to change the economic policies that were initiated in 1991, but why do Modi or Rahul not want to speak about this?
During the last 24 years the country has realised that it is the present economic policy that is responsible for its many problems. No matter which Government comes, it implements the same economic policy, which the then Finance Minister Manmohan Singh introduced in 1991. As a result, corporate friendly policies continue to be crafted. From time to time in between the people have been given lollipops like the Right to Information (RTI) and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNRGES). But in these 24 years, more than 12 States in the country began staggering under Maoism and more farmers than before began committing suicide.
The question now is whether there is any way out of all this or not? There have been ways out at every turn. It is a different matter that no one could show the courage to walk along any of the ways out. In particular in the last two-three years a new phase of a new political consciousness was born in the country. New things about new methods are being discussed, new arguments are taking birth every day. What is good, what is bad, that is ultimately for the people to decide, but the most important thing is that there should be a debate on new thinking, new subjects and issues, new ideas. When Gandhian social crusader Anna Hazare prepared his seventeen point programme for the country and sent it to all the political parties, no political party considered it necessary to respond except Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal who believes that for ending corruption neither is it necessary to be an eminent economist nor is it necessary to have knowledge of economics. For ending corruption it is essential to bring in transparency at every level.
In policy decisions too people should have the right to know why a certain decision is being taken. The village should be made the chief
administrative unit and the Gram Sabha should be given more rights and powers. In every village an independent and self-sustained rural economic scheme should be implemented. For the benefit of farmers, changes should be brought in the land acquisition law so that no one can snatch away their land. A ban should be implemented on the privatisation of minerals so that that no private company can loot the resources of the country. For access of all villages to better health services, broader changes should be brought about in health services. A new policy of education should be implemented and education should be linked to employment.
Now who can refuse such benefits from such programmes? But look at this country’s misfortune — only Mamata Banerjee publicly declared that will apply such policies literally. Now the question
can arise in the minds of people that to implement this agenda, it will be essential to come into power. Can Mamata Banerjee become the Prime Minister? There is another question even bigger than this and that is, why should somebody like Mamata Banerjee not become the Prime Minister of this country? Is it really so difficult as is being considered now? Let us take a brief look at what work Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has done in her State in the last three years. When Mamata Banerjee uprooted 34 years of Leftist rule in West Bengal and became Chief Minister, she ‘inherited’ a State which had been virtually looted. To do away with the debt burden and bring the State on track, within six months of becoming the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee had brought in investments of 56,000 crore rupees and two and a half lakh employment opportunities. Today the problems of Naxalite-affected Jungle Mahal are not the same as they were three years ago. Last year, the Planning Commission gave West Bengal a special package of 8,750 crore rupees for the development of Naxalitie affected areas, which also includes Jungle Mahal. Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura are in this area. In her two and a half years as Chief Minister in West Bengal Mamata Banerjee has done a lot of development work.
The national media may not have highlighted it, but it is a fact that only a few days after coming to power in the State, Mamata Banerjee visited the Naxalite-affected Jungle Mahal. Here she began welfare schemes for the Maoists. Influenced by Mamata’s initiative, several prominent Naxalite leaders gave up violence and joined the mainstream of society. After taking over the reins of power, Mamata Banerjee declared that no land from any of the farmers would be taken forcibly for projects. Under this, she cancelled in Haripur in east Midnapur the proposal for setting up of a nuclear power plant with the co-operation of Russia. It is worth noting that the local farmers had been opposing the Haripur power plant for a long time. Anti -nuclear power organisations also expressed satisfaction at Mamata’s decision.
In West Bengal, the number of minority voters is about 30 per cent. During the assembly elections these voters gave full support to Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. After coming to power, Mamata Banerjee began many welfare schemes for the minorities, from which the people from the Muslim community got full benefit. The salaries of teachers in Madarsas and that of Imams of Mosques were increased, 60 bighas of land were given to Aliah University. Even in matters of simplicity and personal integrity, no leader in the country can measure up before Mamata. If even after a career of 40 years in politics, a Chief Minister does not get changed the humble red mud tiles and bricks of her home, in which class of integrity will this be placed?
The question is whether the country is passing through an optionless stage: does this country have no option other than Modi and Rahul? Actually, this so called optionless state has been deliberately created, so that the people are compelled to choose between Scylla or Charybdis. But this time’s Lok Sabha elections will change this optionless situation. What is wrong with the idea of Mamata Banerjee as a Prime Ministerial candidate? The 1996 experience shows that nothing is impossible in politics. It is full of uncertainties. Improbables like Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral also became Prime Minister. Given this, it should not be surprising if it is hoped that Mamata Banerjee too will become Prime Minister of this country. For such a scenario it is important that in West Bengal she wins more than 30- 35 seats and gets some seats in North and North East India. In such a situation her Trinamool Congress can be the third largest party after the Congress and the BJP. Even after all the efforts of Modi, the political scenario has not become one where after the elections all other parties will bow to him. The other important thing is the fact that with the help of technology and the use of social networking sites Modi and his supporters have created a tremendous ‘virtual’ rather than a real impression or atmosphere in the country. The Gujarat with which Modi is moving around the whole country, its reality is not brought forward by the media or by other political parties.
Let us cast an eye too on the story of development in Gujarat. About forty five per cent of children below the age of five are malnourished in Gujarat. Seventy per cent children suffer from anemia. There are more than thirty lakh BPL (Below Poverty Line) families. Thirty per cent of houses do not get clean water. 489 farmers have committed suicide in ten years. These figures are not from any anti-Government organisations but are entered in official documents and have been obtained after using RTI. The question is that Modi doesn’t tire of going all over the country and relating the story of the success of the farmers of Gujarat : then why are the farmers in his State committing suicide? The girls in primary schools in Gujarat do not even have toilets. Few people know that farmers in Gujarat are agitating for their land. People from dozens of villages are on the road in opposition of the Government’s Special Investment Region Act. All this is the kind of truth on which discussion is avoided, but it is public knowledge and the public knows the truth about Bharat Nirman, India Shining and Vibrant Gujarat. There should be no reluctance in accepting this. In such a situation the coming Lok Sabha elections are far more important for the people of this country than for political parties and their leaders pent up wishes. The decision has to be made by the people and it should be hoped that the people will not make this decision in haste, in a rush of passion, because this time the people are not