Working towards Change

Mamata Banerjee may have ridden to power on the back of the anti-incumbency wave sweeping Bengal, aided by her slogan of ‘Maa, Maati, Manush’ (Mother, Motherland, People); however, a mammoth task awaits her as she assumes office at Writers’ Building. West Bengal, once the hub of culture and education, needs something akin to a reincarnation for a miraculous rise from the ashes of the fire it has immolated itself in.

The top priority of the new TMC-Congress government seems to be the rehabilitation of farmers, and rightly so. The Singur fiasco saw land taken away from farmers, but the proposed Tata Nano plant never came up. West Bengal, once a famous industrial hub, has seen a tremendous decline over the years. The belts that once provided for the inception of steel plants, thanks to their rich reserves of natural resources, deserve much better. The part of the slogan that Mamata would do well to concentrate on, then, is ‘manush’.

A fierce storm last Saturday uprooted trees in our part of Durgapur and caused power lines to snap. It took three days for the electricity supply to be restored- endless hours were spent trying to identify the source of the fault, finding contract labourers to fix it, then moving around in groups from one point to another rectifying the problems. The person in charge of the maintenance office had only been shifted there a day earlier; he was clueless about the steps to be taken in case of a major outage of this sort. One of the officials was beaten up for the extremely slow response of the department; with temperatures touching forty and
insects revelling in the sweaty, still nights when not a breath of wind stirred, tempers were naturally frayed. That, of course, doesn’t justify physical assault, particularly when the apathetic response wasn’t one particular person’s fault. Some people were not even keen on reporting the power failure- “Yeh Bangaal hai, yahaan kuchh nahi ho sakta.” (“This is Bengal, nothing can be done here.”)

The state apparently has a good deal of manpower. Where a job can be done by two people, there is a crowd of five or seven clustering around; men can be seen lounging around in front of small buildings that ostentatiously call themselves a sporting club or sangathan, which turn busy as a beehive come Durga Puja season, but see little activity otherwise. Long tea-and-cigarette breaks, afternoon shutdowns, addas in the shade of trees mean the loss of several hours of work. Add to it the old habits that the state is still painfully holding on- the sale of lottery tickets, the incredibly low travel costs on public transport, and the tendency to strike off work do not bode well for a state badly stuck in a time warp. Ferry rides can still cost as little as Rs. 1.50, and tram rides Rs. 4-6 in the capital city. With inflation so much in evidence all over the country, how does Kolkata manage to survive on its meagre earnings? The number of malls or high-rise buildings isn’t the real index of the state’s strength; people need money, food and shelter, and the vast areas of slums and street-dwellers foraging for food and sleeping on pavements tell the story of the reality that dwells behind the listening facades.

The people of the state have done their duty by voting for change- the voter turnout percentages as mentioned in the media have hovered in the eighties- and as they wake up to the realisation that they are increasingly getting left behind in the march towards progress, they will hopefully find their dormant giant stirred to activity. For industry to thrive and jobs to be created, some of the jaded policies will forcibly have to be uprooted. Change- the much talked-of poriborton– is never easy; it is fraught with difficulties are turmoil. Once the ground is prepared, though, there can be no looking back. The initial euphoria over, it is now time to seriously get to work.

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