May 17, 2015

PM MODI’S KOLKATA VISIT: Lethal Political Opportunism

IT was not too long ago that the chief minister of West Bengal Mamata Banerjee hurled abuses at the CPI(M)’s Tripura chief minister Manik Sarkar for having received, in accordance with official protocol, the prime minister who was visiting Agartala. On prime minister Modi’s recent visit to Kolkata, West Bengal chief minister spread out the red carpet and their new found bonhomie clearly consigned the acrimony between her and the prime minister during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls to the records of history. The body language of the two suggested that a new relationship between the two has blossomed – a potential political alliance in the offing. The reasons are not too far to seek. Beleaguered by the ongoing CBI investigations into the multi crore Saradha and other chit fund scams in West Bengal that has already seen the arrests of leading ministers in the state cabinet and a large number of MPs, the Trinamul Congress is seeking relief. This can only come from a political ‘agreement’ with the Modi government at the centre. It is only the latter which can ease the pressures of the ongoing criminal investigation. The confirmation that such an eventuality is materialising came from none other that the prime minister himself. In his speech at Asansol, PM Modi recalled all the scams of the UPA regime, like the coal, spectrum etc etc and conveniently forgot to mention the Saradha scam. As the BJP’s prime ministerial aspirant it was Modi who launched a no holds barred campaign against the Trinamul Congress and the chief minister personally over this scam. In fact, following the audience the PM gave to the West Bengal CM on March 9 at Delhi, the CBI has gone demonstrably slow in the Saradha investigations. Also recollect that the Modi government sent only nominal central forces during the recently conducted municipal elections in the state facilitating large-scale rigging by the Trinamul Congress. This is in direct contrast to the fact that the West Bengal CM did not meet the PM for any pre-budget consultation (not even the finance minister) earlier. A ‘new deal’ has clearly materialised. On her part the West Bengal chief minister abandoned all her earlier hostility to the BJP and the prime minister in person. There was a very ‘amicable’ one-to-one meeting, hidden from public and media glare, between the two in the ‘green room’ of the Nazrul Manch auditorium that lasted a full 30 minutes. Later both shared a meal at the Raj Bhawan. The prime minister requires the support of the Trinamul Congress in the Rajya Sabha in passing key legislations by making up the BJP shortfall of a majority in the House. Recently, the Trinamul Congress helped the Modi government with the passage of the Mines & Minerals Bill and the Coal Allocations Bill. It has also now agreed to support the Goods & Services Tax (GST) Bill which it had vociferously opposed in the past. The ‘benefits’ are thus mutual. PM Modi has by now made it a habit to reconstruct even recent political history in the country particularly relations between the central government and the West Bengal state government. At Asansol, inaugurating the programme of the Indian Iron & Steel Company (IISCO) expansion project PM Modi accused the Left of deindustrialising the state and claimed that the assistance provided by the former BJP government of Atal Behari Vajpayee on this count was spurned by the Left Front government. The fact is that the entire modernisation work of IISCO started during the Left Front government period. The Atal Behari Vajpayee government had refused any assistance on this count. It was only under the UPA-I government that was formed with the outside support of the Left parties that such a central assistance was forced to be given. On those occasions, in West Bengal, it was the Trinamul Congress that opposed all development programmes of the then West Bengal government including the modernisation of the IISCO. Prime Minister Modi seems to have perfected yet another art of announcing with grandiose so called new schemes of people’s welfare which are nothing but the repackaging of the existing schemes launched by earlier governments. On this occasion, he has, with full fanfare launched three schemes – Pradhan Mantri Suraksha Bima Yojana, Jivan Jyoti Bima Yojana and the Atal Pension Scheme. Elaborating on his by now familiar theme that nothing of substance was ever done in India during the last six decades and that everything is now beginning under his stewardship, PM Modi claimed that though banks were nationalised for the poor there were no poor in the banks. “80 to 90 per cent of the people do not have access to pension or insurance”. Marketing his earlier announced Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana and the claim of crores of new bank accounts that have opened, PM Modi, seems to be oblivious of the fact that out of a population of 1.2 billion in our country we have even today only 150 million bank accounts. Worse of these a good one-third do not have any credited balance. All the three new schemes that have been announced can be availed only by people who have a bank account, hence by definition 90 per cent of the people who need some social security fall outside the pale of these schemes. Many similar schemes already exist for those with bank accounts. Worse there is no budgetary support or a government financial commitment for any one of these three schemes. This means that all these schemes can run only on the basis of peoples own monetary contributions. Consider the Atal Pension Yojana. This is a pension scheme supposedly targeting the unorganised sector designed to provide a fixed minimum pension between Rs 1000 and Rs 5000 per month starting at the age of 60 depending on the contribution made by the individual between the ages of 18 and 40 years. Given the fact that the contribution made by any individual would be for 20 years or more what would be received under the scheme is nothing more (without added interest) than what has already been invested. Further, given that the average life expectancy is 65.5 years, the average age of benefits would only be for around 5 years as against a contribution made over 20 years. Thus it appears that both PM Modi and West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee share a similar methodology of staking claim over illusionary benefits that are marketed by their propaganda blitz as measures for strengthening people’s social security. The corridors of parliament are abuzz with whispers that in drawing the more than willing Trinamul Congress into its web of political opportunism, PM Modi has succeeded in implementing the RSS/BJP programme of “ghar wapsi”. It was the Trinamul Congress that provided the BJP its toehold in West Bengal in the past. Ms Banerjee herself, as a partner of the BJP led NDA, served as a cabinet minister in the Vajpayee government holding first railways and later the coal portfolio. The Trinamul Congress received unstinted support from the RSS-BJP in its campaign of violence and terror against the earlier Left Front government. Clearly now, the central government and the BJP will be partners of the politics of anarchy, violence and terror that is unleashed by the Trinamul Congress in the state. In addition to the perpetuation of the anti-people policies by the central and state governments imposing greater burdens on the people of Bengal, such crass political opportunism will also lead to the sharpening of communal polarisation in the state adding to the miseries of the people. The people of West Bengal are thus being called upon once again to face the menace of this deadly combination that is bound to intensify in the days to come. Without the support of the secular democratic minded people from all over the country this menace cannot be defeated in West Bengal and thus cannot be prevented from engulfing the entire country. The challenge of this menace needs to be unitedly resisted and defeated. (May 13, 2015)