India News Network, New Delhi
April 30, 2009
A quarter century ago, Rajiv Gandhi, as India's prime minister, had infamously commented, “Calcutta is a dying city”. This affront against all that Bengal had contributed to the building of modern India and all that it stands for today has been rebuffed by the people of Bengal at every opportunity during this quarter century.
Today, his son, and Congress general secretary, echoing his father says: “This Communist government has forgotten the poor. And, instead of taking the state ahead, in the past thirty years, it has taken it at least thirty years backward”. He proceeded further to compare the levels of poverty in Bengal with those in Kalahandi in Orissa, parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Such absurd assertions can only come from those who pay a breezy whistle stop daylong tour by helicopters without planting their feet firmly on the ground. The ground realities of Purulia, the area in Bengal referred to, compare more favourably, not only to the places referred to in Orissa, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but also with Rae Bareily and Amethi, represented by the Congress president and the general secretary.
The Congress president, in turn, made disparaging remarks about the misuse of central funds in Bengal, levelling charges of corruption and diversion of such funds. Strange, that such charges come from the leader of the party that indulged in the worst form of political immorality with the unprecedented display of currency notes in the parliament used for buying votes to win the trust motion of the Manmohan Singh government after the Left withdrew support with the UPA's surrender to US imperialism on the nuclear deal!
A common refrain has been that the Left Front government in Bengal had not efficiently utilized the funds allocated under the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme. The Bengal Left Front government had written to the central government that the works permitted by the NREGA were designed primarily for the arid and semi-arid areas in the country and are, therefore, not suited for such places like Bengal which have very high rainfall. The West Bengal government, therefore, had asked for permission to employ people under this scheme for works that are already permitted under various centrally sponsored schemes. This listed special irrigation and land improvement packages that include land levelling, farm bunding, fruit trees and fodder plantation, creating farm ponds, producing low cost mud bricks etc. Such works are more suitable for climatic conditions of areas like Bengal. The central government, however, refused to permit the West Bengal government from undertaking such works under the NREGA. It is the UPA government, therefore, which is responsible for not permitting the efficient and exhaustive usage of the NREGA funds in Bengal. Thus, despite the unsubstantiated attacks by the Congress leaders that the Left Front government did not give `job cards' to “lakhs of poor farmers”, the fact remains that the West Bengal government has, by now, given 95 lakh job cards to deserving poor people. All over the country, so far only 4 crore job cards have been given. In other words, West Bengal, which accounts for 8 per cent of the country's population, has distributed 25 per cent of all job cards distributed in the country.
Let us take a look at the canards being spread against the Left Front on the issue of economic development in the state. In the period of neo-liberal economic reforms, during the decade between 1993 to 2003 (the last year for which authoritative data is available) the average growth of net state domestic product was 7.10 per cent – the highest amongst the sixteen big states in India. This is well ahead of the media favorites like Maharashtra (4.74 per cent), Gujarat (5.87 per cent), Karnataka (6.27 per cent) Andhra Pradesh (5.27 per cent) and Tamilnadu (5.24 per cent). This is from a study done by the Centre for Policy Alternatives quoting statistics from the Central Statistical Organisation, the Economic Survey and RBI bulletins. Studies by the World Bank and by the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, earlier, corroborate such findings.
In terms of per capita income, West Bengal has registered an average growth of 5.51 percent as opposed to the national average of 4.01 per cent. This has happened despite the fact that the annual population growth was 1.64, much higher than the highflying states like Tamilnadu (1.06). The study notes “without doubt, the seemingly uncontrollable and unabated migration, particularly from Bangladesh but also from Nepal and neighbouring states like Bihar and Orissa, has contributed to this relatively high growth of population. Whatever are the reasons for this we can only surmise that the rise in per capita income could have been higher if there had been no population influx into Bengal.”
The more significant aspect of West Bengal’s performance is the fact that this is a growth led by agriculture in complete contrast to the national experience, thus making it the most effective example of `inclusive growth'. Land reforms are often seen purely from the humanitarian aspect of providing a source of livelihood for those who otherwise have none. This is definitely an important aspect. But a proper rational land distribution also contributes to a growth in productivity (both land and labour) and enhances the purchasing power in the hands of a vast majority of the people who are otherwise excluded from the market. All these three aspects are visible in Bengal today. Nearly 13 lakh acres of agricultural land was acquired by the Left Front government and distributed to the landless poor (This process continues even today). Nearly 25 lakhs of people have benefited as a result. Even if one were to assume the value of one acre of land to be a conservative Rs 10 lakhs, then this land distribution amounts to Rs 1 lakh 30 thousand crores of worth of resource transfer from the rich to the poor. Such a massive redistribution of wealth has contributed to making West Bengal the fastest growing rural economy today. In addition, nearly 20 lakh sharecroppers have been recorded; meaning that the landlord cannot now evict them. They have also been conferred hereditary rights to cultivation. Combined, these two measures have radically transformed the lives of nearly 50 lakh individuals or nearly two and half to 3 crores of people if we include their families.
West Bengal is the third most intensely agricultural state in India with 76.61 per cent of its land under cultivation. However, only 28.1 of this is irrigated, unlike say Punjab which has 89.72 per cent, thanks to central projects like the Bhakra Nangal dam, the like of which are denied to Bengal. Despite this, Bengal today has the third highest average yield in India and its volume of foodgrains production is also third after Punjab and Uttar Pradesh (undivided; because of its sheer size not productivity). Today it is the country’s largest producer of rice. In the early eighties the per capita net agricultural product in West Bengal was 18 per cent lower than the national average. Today it stands over 10 per cent higher than the national average.
Despite such hard facts which explain the reality why the people of Bengal continue to repose faith in the Left Front in over seven general elections over the last three decades, the Congress leaders, in their legally new-established company with the Trinamul Congress, continue to parrot the so-called `misrule' of the Left Front. In any democracy, the people will elect that political party, which, in their opinion, is best, suited to improve their quality of life. By this yardstick, the unprecedented re-election of the Left Front in Bengal, for over three decades, must inform all of us that the people continue to repose faith in the Left Front because of the improvements that they have seen in their quality of life.
This fact was often sought to be negated in the past by hurling charges of `scientific rigging'. Succumbing to such unfounded charges, the Election Commission in the 2006 elections to the state Assembly, decided to conduct them in five phases by drawing security forces and electoral personnel from outside Bengal as the local people were allegedly `pro-CPI (M)'. At that stage, we had told the Election Commission that as long as they do not bring voters from outside Bengal, no one could defeat the Left Front! The 2006 results hailed by all, including the Trinamul chief Mamta Banerjee as being completely free and fair, gave the Left Front a larger than two-third majority in the Assembly.
Thus, saying that the Left Front subjected Bengal to a three-decade long misrule is tantamount to insulting the people of Bengal and the electoral choices that they have made on the basis of their experiences. Bengal's electorate, shall, once again, reply to such insinuations in as appropriate a manner as they had done in the past.