Tag Archive for 'Mamata Banerjee'

The knight in veshti

“ It is Chidambaram, with his unique powers of persuasion, who is now going to act as the channel of communication between 10 Janpath and the PMO,” writes Aditi Phadnis in Business Standard:

On a cool November day last year, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma got the news that West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee would be available in Delhi’s Pragati Maidan, where the annual trade fair was going on. Sharma was advised that it was an opportunity too precious to overlook: Banerjee would be a captive audience as she was going to be watching a cultural show; so he should seize the chance, drive down there and brief her on the development that 51 per cent FDI (foreign direct investment) in multi-brand retail would bring in.

Sharma did exactly that. Visitors to the function saw him sitting next to Banerjee, talking earnestly for nearly 90 minutes. Eyewitnesses also noted that Banerjee did not even turn to look at him. She just pretended he didn’t exist and stared into the middle distance the entire time. “We could see that he was talking. But it didn’t look as if she was listening,” recalls a visitor. So when Sharma told a Cabinet meeting that he had spoken to Banerjee thrice — twice personally and once on the phone — he was not being inaccurate.

A cabinet meeting on FDI in retail followed later in the year. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Sharma attempted to move a note seeking the cabinet’s approval to open up the sector. Dinesh Trivedi, then railways minister, said he could not be party to the move as his leader, Banerjee, was opposed to it. Sharma said that he had spoken to Banerjee thrice. Trivedi said that that may be so but “my leader is still opposed to it”. Mukherjee said that he — Trivedi — was just a first-time MP, indicating he should leave the running of the government to others. Trivedi said: “I’m not your student and you’re not my headmaster. I am an elected MP and a minister of a separate political party.” As senior Congress leader A K Antony opposed the move as well, the decision was kept in suspension. Mukherjee subsequently told the Lok Sabha that further consultations with stakeholders would follow to create a consensus. More:

India’s reforms 2012: A risky strategy, born of panic

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

I asked a senior member of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet what had changed between November 2011 and September 2012. There is still no consensus on FDI in retail, yet a decision has been taken to go full steam ahead. “What has changed is the value of the rupee,” the Minister replied. Every rupee that the dollar gains adds Rs 8,000 crore to India’s annualised oil import bill. “Of course, Manmohan admitted to us that not even one dollar may flow into retail or airlines right now”, he said. But this decision to open the sector and raise diesel prices has to be taken in order to stop the rupee from going into free fall.

Signalling is not an unknown tactic, both in economics and in war. Signals can radiate strength and resolve, but they can also connote weakness. How will those whose ‘animal spirits’ are being propitiated look at the petard the UPA has just pinned upon the door of small retail across India? Dr. Singh must not be fooled by the applause he has garnered from editorialists, TV anchors and corporate leaders for being “tough” and “decisive”. These perfumed words may wash the stain of the Washington Post’s ink on his hands — a recent article in the American paper about his indecisiveness seems to have particularly stung the PMO — but they are self-serving and deceptive. From their vantage point in the White House or on Wall Street, the champions of American finance and enterprise see an Indian Prime Minister who is not tough but vulnerable: a man who believes the only way he can revive the economy and save the rupee is by doing what it takes to pull in foreign institutional investors and even hot money. More:

Politics after President Pranab

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Hindu:

Based on these dynamics, there are four possible outcomes of the 2014 elections. (1) Re-election of the UPA under Rahul Gandhi; (2) Victory of the NDA with the BJP in a strong but not commanding position within the alliance; (3) Emergence of a Congress-supported centre-left ‘Third Front;’ (4) A BJP-supported centre-right ‘Fourth Front’ led by someone like Nitish Kumar.

Going by the current state of play at the State level, the last option — of the ‘Fourth Front’ — seems to have the edge over 2 or 1. Option 3 becomes viable if the SP and the Trinamool, which today have around 45 seats, are able to more than double their tally, but without the Communists providing the ideological glue is unlikely to take off.

The corporate sector’s preference would be for 1, 2 or 4. Options 1 and 2 promise them “stability” and the possibility of pushing reforms. Option 4 will be unstable but offers the greatest opportunity for primitive accumulation through resource rents. More:

Mamata Banerjee personifies populist force in Indian politics

Simon Denyer from Kolkata in The Washington Post:

She spent her life fighting communists but is the biggest obstacle to economic liberalization in India today. She is the leader of a small regional party but wields more power than the prime minister.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of the state of West Bengal, is a rising force in Indian politics, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton paid a special visit to Kolkata this month to meet her.

The 57-year-old Banerjee — determined, resolutely populist and hardworking, yet eccentric and intolerant of dissent — holds the balance of power in India’s coalition government and has used that political might to huge effect.

Time after time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts to introduce economic reforms have foundered because of Baner­jee’s opposition. Time magazine recently listed her among the world’s 100 most influential people, and 25 out of 50 CEOs surveyed by a leading Indian newspaper last week said she was the biggest stumbling block to economic growth.

Banerjee is the personification of a fundamental change that is transforming Indian politics: the declining vote share of the country’s two main political parties and the rising influence of regional parties. More:

A letter to Mamata Banerjee: “…Madam, perhaps it might be time for you to resign and go.”

The Indian Express front page

The Telegraph front page

Ruchir Joshi in The Telegraph:

Madam Chief Minister Banerjee,

 I am writing this letter to you on my own computer and sending it out for publication via my own email. I am not, and have never been, a member of any political party, of any communist party anywhere including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M).

I am a citizen of India, of West Bengal, of Calcutta, and I live in the constituency you formerly represented as an MP — South Calcutta.

I have also never been a supporter of yours or of your party, though I was certainly among the millions who celebrated after the election results last year. All of us were celebrating the end of the long, incompetent, corrupt, oppressive rule by the Left Front, even though I’m certain some millions of us were anxious as to what your tenure in power would bring.

But we had believed in the hope of paribartan. I think we, the sceptical West Bengali millions, were hoping that you would lead a better, cleaner, fairer government than the disgraced, departing Left Front. In the euphoria of the election results it was impossible to imagine that you could do worse than Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government.

I myself made a resolution that I would not write anything critical of you or your administration for at least one year. It was only fair, given the huge mess you were inheriting, a mess that was not only administrative and financial but also, centrally, moral. The Left had so completely dismantled and thrown away all decency and humanity in matters of State that you could trace the roots of all their other failures to this institutionalized immorality; surely you had to be given a fair chance to begin to clean up this overflowing sewer?

Sadly, despite my best efforts, I’m going to fall short of my promise by exactly one month. I am now forced to write to you openly in this column. Madam, in only eleven months you have proved yourself to be a grotesquely disastrous chief minister. More:

The D-Queen and her magic mirror: Mamata’s rule is fast turning into a tyranny

Ruchir Joshi in The Daily Mail:

What the people couldn’t see was that Queen-Didi always carried with her a huge mirror that was invisible to all but herself and her followers.

This mirror was both convex and concave. When she turned it one way, it made the Queen-Didi look like a really large Dude-y, when she turned it the other way it made her followers look like really small green-coloured Doodles.

So, when the D-Queen took over the castle and installed her DDCompany in cabinet, there were only one or two minister-people who weren’t her Doodles.

Soon, D-Queen began to make sweeping changes: she removed all billboards in the heritage areas of the city except the ones advertising her own party; she made grand deals with the Mountain People and promised the earth to the Jungle People; she made tough noises about the Sindustrialists; she promised the police would be given independence from all politicians. Read full story here

The people’s politician and the power of dressing: Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in The Telegraph

All at sea

The Hindu editor Siddharth Vardarajan on the UPA’s struggle to keep its head above water

Remember the old Ajit joke in which the greatest Bollywood villain of all time asks his henchmen to use “liquid oxygen” against the hero? “The liquid won’t let him live and the oxygen won’t let him die,” he explains. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh can be forgiven for feeling a bit like he’s caught in the middle of a forgettable 1970s movie. The United Progressive Alliance government he runs is all at sea and each week seems to push him further away from the shoreline. But even as ill winds buffet him from all sides — the latest tempest emanating from somewhere in West Bengal — none of the political forces ranged against him really wants to see his rickety boat capsize. Just when he is about to be swallowed up by all the liquid around him, he gets a tiny bit of oxygen. more

State of the sisterhood

Do India’s women leaders prove to be game changers for the women who vote for them? With four women chief ministers, not to mention the head of the Congress party, the president of the country, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and leader of Opposition, women are at a historic level of representation in political life. But women in India still have a long way to go, writes Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times.

The headlines are euphoric. Mamata Banerjee, J Jayalalithaa, Mayawati and Sheila Dikshit, just four women now rule over 400 million Indians. Three cheers for gender justice. Yet, there is no skirting the big question: are they about to swing a new deal for India’s women? Some would argue, don’t hold your breath.

The four women chief ministers are pictures in contrast. In her elegant saris, Sheila Dikshit is the silver-haired patrician who calls journalists beta, especially when they are asking tough questions. The unyielding Mayawati rules Uttar Pradesh by diktat, transferring officials who displease her faster than you can say ‘statue’. Jayalalithaa encourages full ashtang namaskars by genuflecting party members. Only Mamata is the untried, untested chief minister who comes to power with zero ostentation and enormous expectation for single-handedly demolishing 34 years of unbroken Communist rule. more

Collapse of India’s Left

The front page of The Telegraph, Calcutta

Ashis Chakrabarti in The Telegraph on Mamata Banerjee’s victory and the collapse of Marxists:

Friday afternoon, Mamata Banerjee’s long march to “liberate” Bengal from the world’s longest democratically elected communist rule ended in a green revolution that was reminiscent of the revolutions — velvet, orange, rose, et al — that once felled the Berlin Wall and one communist regime in eastern Europe after another.

The big difference is this: none of those revolutions, except perhaps the one led by Lech Walesa’s Solidarity in Poland, was the making of a single leader the way the one in Calcutta has been Mamata’s very own.

It was in the making for several years, but the way it gathered momentum in the last few weeks was nothing short of a blitzkrieg that knocked the supposedly mighty edifice of the CPM down without the party leaders having a clue to what was about to hit them.

She began her campaign to end the CPM’s rule with the slogan: “Now’s the time” — that became the call to action in Prague’s Velvet Revolution. It proved illusory in 2001 but it has happened now.

But the slogan will take on a completely different meaning now. From now onwards, her years of street fight will be yesterday’s story. Both for Bengal and for Mamata, the story that unfolds from this morning has to be about her vision and work to create a tomorrow. It is not the ordinary change of government that comes and goes with every election, changing little in people’s lives.

For everything that she plans to do, she may have to undo plenty of things. The historic turnabout of the traditionally Leftist Bengal to her side is clear evidence that she has to reverse many of the supposedly irreversible legacies that have led to Bengal’s economic and social decline. More:

Ladies script sweep show: Sankarshan Thakur in The Telegraph

In The Times of India: Almost one-third of Indians will now be ruled by women. With Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa storming to power on Friday in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, they join two other women chief ministers, Mayawati and Sheila Dikshit, to administer 368 million, or around 30% of India’s 1.2 billion population.

But the day didn’t belong to just the women. It also belonged to the wise Indian voter who punished the corrupt and the arrogant with ferocious intent. CPM’s impregnable bastion of Bengal, increasingly working more for its cadre than the people, was blown to bits and its 34-year-old hegemony ended, while a corruption-tainted DMK, running Tamil Nadu like a family profit centre, was consigned to the dustbin.

The outcomes in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu dwarfed Tarun Gogoi’s hat-trick in Assam, the Congress’s shock defeat in Puducherry and the Left’s better-than-expected performance in Kerala, where it fell agonisingly short of the finishing line — 0.7% of the votes and four seats were the difference between the two fronts, UDF and LDF. More:


The eye of an Indian hurricane

In The New York Times, Jim Yardley profiles Calcutta’s Mamata Banerjee who is all set to topple Bengal’s Marxist regime:

Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the All-India Trinamool Congress. Image: Wiki Commons.

THE door opened, and out came Didi, as everyone knows her. Didi means Big Sister, but Mamata Banerjee is hardly big, at least in size. She is barely five feet, dressed plainly in a simple cotton sari and plastic sandals. Yet, as she stepped out of her tiny house, Didi began barking orders that sent her covey of male aides into a solicitous tizzy. It was time to wage her political insurgency.

“Go! Go! Go!” she shouted as she slid into a small black car and the driver lurched into the tumult of a city of 15 million people. “First, we are going to the hospital!”

It was last Sunday, and like almost every other day during the last two decades, Ms. Banerjee, 56, continued her unswerving pursuit of toppling one of the most entrenched political machines in the world. The Communist-led Left Front government has won seven consecutive elections and dominated the state of West Bengal for more than 30 years even as the state, once an intellectual and economic capital of India, has suffered a gradual decline.

Now, with new elections expected to be called no later than May, the Left Front appears on the verge of being beaten by a woman who, quite against convention and expectation, is emerging as one of the most powerful and unpredictable politicians in India. If Ms. Banerjee wins, she will join a group of regional leaders whose successes are reshaping the Indian political map.

“We have been fighting this battle for a long time, since my student days,” she said as the small black car sped through the streets of Calcutta. “We have been the only and lonely people who have opposed them.” More:

Can Mamata be Bengal’s Nitish?

Saubhik Chakrabarti in The Indian Express:

This year may see Mamata Banerjee, presumably still in alliance with the Congress, defeat what has been called the world’s longest-running democratically elected communist government. It is of course a measure of how Bengal’s politics has changed that taking calls on the state’s voter verdict is probably the safest exercise in New Year crystal-ball gazing. Assuming the CPM-led Left Front rediscovers the joys of being in the opposition, there’s another very safe prediction for Bengal: Banerjee will have the toughest job of all potentially game-changing chief ministers in recent times.

To sharpen this argument, let’s say her job will be much tougher than Nitish Kumar’s was in Bihar. This may sound surprising given the general, and not unreasonable, assumption that Bengal hasn’t quite reached the state of dysfunctionality that Bihar seemingly had before the 2005 verdict for Kumar. Getting pizza chains to do home delivery at night in Left-ruled Kolkata is not quite an event as it was said to have been for post-Lalu Prasad Patna. Three reasons explain why Banerjee will find it more difficult than Kumar to mould political dough into a new, attractive form. These special-to-Bengal difficulties hold even if the state’s Maoist problem — a big challenge for Banerjee — becomes tractable. More:

The revenge of the proletariat

Why the Marxists are losing Bengal after 40 years. Swapan Dasgupta in Tehelka:


Illustration: Anand Naorem / Tehelka

Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal’s ubiquitous ‘Didi’ has already acquired the reputation of a lady who, having fought the Reds unwaveringly since her political debut in 1984, is within smelling distance of capturing Writers’ Buildings. On November 15, when she undertook a short padayatra from Nandakuthi to Tarakeshwar in Hoogly district against the CPI(M)’s “reign of terror”, she was accompanied by a sea of adoring and belligerent humanity. There were two popular slogans: the first taunted the Reds, “Aye CPM dekhe jaa, Mamatar khamata” (Come CPI(M), and witness the power of Mamata) but the second was decidedly menacing, “Biman/Buddhadeb-er chamra, khule nebo amra” (We will skin Biman Basu and Buddhadeb).

The CPI(M) has reason to be worried. The electoral downslide of the Left Front in the Lok Sabha election of this year was quite precipitate. For the first time since 1971, the CPI(M)-led combine failed to win a majority of Lok Sabha seats from the state. Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, which had been reduced to just a solitary seat in 2004, stole the thunder by winning 22 seats. Mamata drove home her advantage in the by-elections to 10 Assembly seats held in November. The ruling Left Front won a solitary seat and the CPI(M) tally was zero. More:

Indian election 2009: The verdict

A selection of front pages, their lead stories, and comment:


National, a forgotten idea, is reborn in the triumph of Congress

Manini Chatterjee in the Telegraph, Calcutta:

tallyThe idea of India – a vibrant, secular, plural, resurgent nation that can transcend its myriad differences and complexities to reaffirm an essential unity of purpose – received a resounding victory today as the world’s largest electorate shed the politics of extremes and delivered a decisive mandate to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance.

For the Grand Old Party, today’s verdict was, arguably, its sweetest victory in many decades. In terms of numbers, the Congress secured much bigger wins in 1984 and even in 1991. But those came in the backdrop of tragic assassinations and were harvested in abnormal times and soon became a thing of the past as the politics of identity and regionalism, of caste and creed left little space for the middle-of-the-road politics of the only truly pan-Indian party. More:

Mrs G & Mrs G: same score

From the Telegraph, Calcutta:

The original Mrs G delivered a second successive election victory for the Congress but before that she had to win a war in 1971. The reigning Mrs G has also led the Congress to a consecutive poll success but hasn’t had to go so far as to fight an external war, though there might have been many domestic battles.

At least on one count, Mrs G equals Mrs G. Both have now won elections back to back. Indira Gandhi never won a third one running.

Given the culture of worship in the Congress, no one would openly weigh Field Marshal Sonia against Indira but comparisons are inevitable if only because they share the name. More:


Hands down

Shekhar Gupta in the Indian Express:

There are winners and there are losers in any election. But this is one election India can feel particularly good about. Not only because it’s been one of our smoothest ever – for which the Election Commission deserves the nation’s gratitude – but also because it confirms the positive trends that some of us, incorrigible optimists, have been flagging for a while. This newspaper has argued that the politics of grievance, rooted in our complex past, is giving way to the politics of aspiration. Or, as Thomas Friedman puts it, the weight of dreams is turning out heavier than that of memories. This election, powered by 60 crore voters, shows our democracy is firmly on that virtuous curve.

For, anybody who built a campaign on negativism, prejudice, victimhood and vengeance has been demolished. The voter has, in fact, been even less forgiving with victims of hubris, with those who loftily announce themselves as “next” Prime Ministers without being sure of even 40 seats; those who build their own statues; and those who with a fraction of seats in Parliament aspire to control the nation’s foreign and economic policies without, of course, being accountable for anything. More:

The headline says it all.

The headline says it all.

Red in the face

Jayati Ghosh in the Asian Age:

In West Bengal the picture is more disturbing. There is clear evidence of vote shifts against the ruling Left Front, and this message from the electorate cannot be ignored but must be addressed. The Left Front has ruled the state for more than three decades, providing not only stability but also many extremely positive measures for the improvement of conditions of life of ordinary people: not just the crucial land reforms that were the most extensive of any state government in the last 30 years, but the pioneering moves towards decentralisation and providing more powers to locally elected bodies.

However, in the past few years the state government of West Bengal, through its own actions or its inability to get its message across, has contributed to some loss of goodwill among the people. Three factors that have contributed to this and which must be recognised and addressed are:

The sense of alienation among the peasantry in the face of the events at Singur and Nandigram and the inability of the government to adequately justify its actions to the people or even to publicise its continuing land distribution programme;

The perceptions of discrimination among the Muslim community, even among those who have earlier been consistent Left supporters; More:


Man who would have been king

Ashok Malik in Hindustan Times:

The May 16 verdict is not a mandate for continuity; it is a vote for change. People never vote for the status quo. They vote in hope, they vote for better times, they vote for change. In this election, in substantial swathes of India, Rahul Gandhi came to represent change.

Uttar Pradesh is the most striking example. The Congress made gains in the eastern part of the state and in Bundelkhand, where Gandhi toured extensively over the past two years. In Jhansi, he sat in dharna on a local issue. The Congress won the seat. More:


Yesterday once more

Sunil Khilnani, author of The Idea of India, in Mint:

The demand in New Delhi for cars with opaque windows, and for large suitcases, has suddenly dropped. The extraordinary decisive victory of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) now gives it the opportunity to form a government without the usual, tortuous machinations-and with the nearest approximation to an electoral mandate that India has seen in 25 years. The victory asserts Manmohan Singh’s personal authority at the heart of government, and it vindicates his decision last year to dispense with dependence on the Left parties. He now has the opportunity to serve a historic second term, and Congress has that rare thing in politics, a second chance. After the UPA government came to power in 2004, it squandered-despite some golden economic years-many opportunities to develop infrastructure, to improve primary and higher education, to pursue financial reforms, to provide basic health, and to work towards stabilizing the region. More:


Bharat Shining, Cong Smiling, Left Whining

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in the Times of India:

I was dead wrong in predicting a hung parliament with Mayawati having a kingmaking role. Yet, I cannot resist recalling the heading of my March 9 column, ‘India slumps, Bharat rises, Congress smiles’. Despite a global recession that has hammered industry, rural areas – called Bharat – have prospered, enabling Congress to win a smashing victory.

Indian voters throw out 80% of all incumbent governments, especially in bad economic times. The global recession has hit India hard – industrial production slumped into negative growth, and exports were down 33% last month. Rural consumer prices are up almost 10%.

For Congress to get re-elected in such circumstances is remarkable. The main reason is prosperity in rural areas, which have 70% of the population. The entire organized sector has barely 30 million workers out of India’s total workforce of 500 million, which is overwhelmingly rural. Industrial captains, trade unions and information technology may hog newspaper headlines, but are barely visible to the rural millions. More:

The Manmohan Singh impact

Harish Khare in the Hindu:

Three months ago some of Dr. Manmohan Singh’s friends and aides were not averse to expressing their sense of disappointment that the Congress seemed so reluctant to project him as its prime ministerial mascot. Their argument was that he was an asset to the party, and the electorate was bound to appreciate his honesty, integrity and efficiency.

Then the Bharatiya Janata Party did the good doctor a favour. The principal Opposition party took a strategic decision to convert the Lok Sabha elections into a kind of presidential contest between its “strong leader” L.K. Advani and the “weak” Manmohan Singh. Mr. Advani started attacking Dr. Singh as the “weakest Prime Minister,” ridiculing him for being subservient to the Congress president, taunting him as a wimp, and heaping scorn, saying: “I do not get angry with him; I pity him.” More:

Tata forced to relocate ‘people’s car’ plant

From a story headlined “Bullet into Bengal’s soul” in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

Ratan Tata with 'people's car' Nano

Ratan Tata with Nano

Bengal’s symbol of industrial resurgence, the Nano, died a violent death today, the trigger pulled by Mamata Banerjee, Ratan Tata said.

After a meeting with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Tata said: “Two years ago, I said if somebody puts a gun to my head, you would either have to remove the gun or pull the trigger. I would not move my head. I think Ms Banerjee pulled the trigger.” More:

Also in The Telegraph transcript of Ratan Tata‘s media conference:”This is a decision we have taken with a great deal of sadness…” Click here for more

Indians count cost of pyrrhic victory over Tata

Amy Kazmin in Financial Times:

Rising from the lush green paddy fields 40 kilometres from India’s decrepit former colonial capital Calcutta, Tata Motors’ flagship Nano car factory was expected to bring jobs and prosperity to a region little touched so far by the forces of globalisation now transforming other parts of India.

Instead, the high-profile plant in Singur – where Tata planned to produce the world’s cheapest car for India and for export – foundered on resistance of farmers such as 55-year-old Prabhat Shi, who saw little role for himself in the industrial sector, and preferred to cling to time-tested ways of living.


Previously in AW: Time to say tata & bye bye?

Time to say tata & bye bye?

Hours after Ratan Tata, chairman of India’s Tata conglomerate, threatened to pull out of his Rs one-lakh ($2,500) Nano car project from Singur, West Bengal, other state governments — most notably MaharashtraOrissa and Punjab — have rushed forward with invitations to Tata’s boss to set up the project in their state instead.

In West Bengal, however, Mamata Banerjee, leader of the state opposition party Trinamool Congress, stands firm and insists that 400 acres of land acquired from farmers by the Tatas be returned to them. But, here’s the twist to the tale, the farmers of Singur don’t want the Tatas to leave, reports The Indian Express

In a twist of the tale, a day after Ratan Tata threatened to pull out of the ‘Nano’ project in Singur, farmers whose land have been acquired do not want the Tata Motors Limited Chairman to leave as they believe industrialisation would improve their lot.

Marginal land owner Debaprasad Das whose 0.75 acres was taken for the project, but who had not taken his cheque as he had supported the agitation against land acquisition, said he wanted industrialisation.