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Bengal Conundrum: Poll Over, What Next? Development Is Only Challenge For Resurrection – OpEd

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The uproarious West Bengal poll is over. Nudging out the highly speculative hung government, West Bengal witnessed the return of TMC (Trinamool Congress) led by Mamata Banerjee, with a massive victory for a third term. This sends a new message to Modi’s political satraps, who were confident to siege the Bengal poll after making major in-roads in Bengal in the Lok Sabha election in 2019. West Bengal’s political synergy is different from other states. BJP’s poll strategy seemed to be Delhi centric, without a touch on the pulse of Bengal voters. Mamata played the card of Bengali exceptionalism and the triumph of Bengali pride. She portrayed Bengali above all and called for a war against those who undermined Bengali culture and ethos.  

Modi’s political outreach to gift Bengal with development failed to win over Bengali hearts. Its voters are  thronged with deep cultural heritages and have a pride for the country’s land for intellectuals. It chants “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.” It is ethnocentric for its political maturity and precedence in the country. It sowed the seeds of the independence movement. It germinated the world’s biggest land reform to safeguard the interests of poor farmer by legalizing the Berga System, where a landless farmer is also the owner of the land. It threw a jerk to Parliamentary democracy with the Naxalism movement with a motive that Parliamentary democracy was not the right vision when nearly fifty percent of the people are uneducated and live in poverty.             

It is true that when TMC opened its book in 2011, it was waddling between a debt burden and the haunting of  Tata’s Nano project failure. Investors were not ensured for the safety of their investment, even though she was pro-industry.  Besides the Tata Nano hangover, her frequent attempts for challenging and severing the relation with the Centre had inimical impact on investors. She committed the land bank and preferential treatment to the investors. Notwithstanding, few were takers of her commitment . 

To outsmart the dented image, Chief  Minister Mamata Banerjee organized five Bengal Global Business Summit and  rolled out red carpet to the investors. The fourth Bengal  Global Business Summit in February 2019 gave a thumping verdict to her attempt for resurgence of business opportunities in Bengal. The presence of big investors like Mr Mukesh Ambani, Mr Kishore Biyani, Mr Sajjan Jindal in the summit raised hope for a re-look by the investors in Bengal. The media was upbeat and ramped up the summit as a big success when she could manage the presence of pro-Modi entrepreneurs, such as Mr Ambani and Mr Adani. 

Notwithstanding, the trust deficit did not recede. Investors came, attended the summit, signed MOUs and went back. But, they did not pour investment into the state. Eventually, the state was facing a big challenge to re-build its industrialization and vie for investors’ hearts.. 

Does the third term of TMC mean a wake up call for Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to place West Bengal in the map of resurgence of industrialization in the country or exit from the Bengal politics? The triumph of Bengali pride can not sustain for long amid the growing unemployment, poverty and backwardness in the state.   

West Bengal is bestowed with favorable  geographical  placement for doing business. It is inundated by big  opportunities for investment, being the gateway to South East Asia. It is surrounded by three nations, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and contiguous to Myanmar. They are least developing countries. They do not produce modern consumer goods and capital goods. None of them has any car manufacturing unit or a steel making factory. Eventually, these nations provide big market opportunities for investors in West Bengal. 

All the three neighbouring countries are members of SAFTA, which provide duty free market accessibility for  Indian goods and vice-versa. Given this, West Bengal provides a strong platform for surface trade  opportunities with these countries. Road connectivity has been given thrust as a part of Act East Policy to make the state as a gateway to South East Asia. 

West Bengal has a distinct advantage to become a trading hub for India because of its proximity to Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar. They can open new opportunities for trading with India. Myanmar has emerged a prospective trade destination after the return of democracy. The road connectivity provides enough potential for border trade with these countries. With cost cutting opportunity in logistic, a competitive tool for buoyancy in trade, border trade unleashes greater opportunities with neighbouring countries.

West Bengal can provide a strong foundation for global value chain (GVC) manufacturing operations in the eastern region. In the wake of China loosing cost competitiveness and the outbreak of COVID 19, which resulted foreign investors looking for alternatives, West Bengal can provide a propitious platform for GVC manufacturing operations between India and ASEAN. West Bengal is considered to be one of the lowest in the cost competitiveness for manufacturing in India.

West Bengal is the second largest place for micro, small and medium enterprises. Given this, industries with low and middle level investment and of labor intensive industries are appropriate for industrialization. To this end, the experiences of Vietnam and Bangladesh would be a lesson for the growth of industries in West Bengal. Success stories of ‘Supporting industry” model for automobile in Vietnam and the surge in garment industry in Bangladesh can provide some tips to West Bengal. 

Given the ample advantages of  West Bengal, Mamata should bet on domestic and foreign investment in the state, instead of reverting the state into a battleground for a Centre-State face-off 

Subrata Majumder

Subrata Majumder is an adviser to Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), New Delhi, and the author of “Exporting to Japan,” as well as various articles in Indian media, including Business Line, Echo of India, Indian Press Agency, and foreign media, such as Asia Times online and Eurasia Review .

2 thoughts on “Bengal Conundrum: Poll Over, What Next? Development Is Only Challenge For Resurrection – OpEd

  • May 8, 2021 at 12:05 pm
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    Extremely well written about the reasons of down fall of West Bengal for the common people like myself to understand and how best to lift the state economically. Lay people like myself have lost faith in Mamata’s ability to take the state and its people to its past glory. To me the state is DECAYING and Mamataji has failed to improve the lives of the people of Bengal as CM for the last decade.
    Thank you Subrata by enlightening the reasons of Bengal’s failure recommendations to improve.

    Reply
  • May 9, 2021 at 5:30 pm
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    Well penned sir. BJP tried hard but peoples mandate is for TMC.
    To me BJP’s poll strategy was not Delhi centric but BJP centric. As BJP as a party is still in germination phase in West Bengal, so central leaders were there to boost the cadre and masses because of Bengal’s history of poltical violence and killings.
    As for the political pulse of Bengal, even party like CPM ,INC who were in power for decades failed to judge and are now without a seat in Bengal assembly. It is this pulse that even buisness houses are unable to read and investments are not materializing.
    Hope Bengal will succeed.
    Thanks sir .

    Reply

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