Didi’s Dreams and the Budget

Pranabda is at it again. His antics have angered Mamata Banerjee, yet again. But this time the lady has chosen the moment with great deftness and skill, something you associate with astute politicians. Didi has been on the forefront of public demonstrations and rallies in West Bengal, and now she is putting her oratorical skills to full use to express solidarity with the ‘common man’.

Her verbose statements regarding the hike in the excise taxes seem to be inspired with the 2011 Assembly elections of West Bengal in sight. She is ‘concerned’ that the hike would lead to an increase in the fuel prices, something which would add to the inflationary pressures. She is also miffed by the extension of service tax to railways. She sulked in the last row in Lok Sabha while FM was busy reading out his budget, and her mannerisms in the House were indicative of her growing anger. Nothing seems to mollify her at the moment. She has shot off a letter to the PM expressing her dissent over the inclusion of the railways in the service tax net.

All the drama seems an eyewash for the public. Many might vouch for Mamata’s knee-jerk reaction and justify it as her concern for the junta. But, her critics would term this as a poll gimmick, intended to attract the voters from her state. The Trinamool Congress (TC) supremo has her sight fixed on the Assembly elections, and wants to garner support for her party, and fulfill her dreams of occupying the CM’s chair.

Politics in West Bengal has taken a real nasty turn. The Maoist problem has become a real headache for the incumbent CPI (M) government. Adding to the confusion is the bloody battle between the CPI (M) cadres and the TC party workers in the rural regions, where they are vying for each other’s blood, quite literally. While the political battle ensues, CPI (M) is a house on fire. Its own members are beginning to doubt the party’s ability to make an impact in New Delhi. Apart from this, the party has lost many stalwarts, like Jyoti Basu, who was the face of the party for 30-odd years.

Mamata Banerjee sees this as an opportunity to beat the CPI (M) in its own backyard. She believes that her party has a chance to break the 30-year long rule of the Communists. She played her cards right, when she supported the UPA after the General Elections, and occupied the post of the Railway Minister. She has since been pampering West Bengal, especially the Northern regions, considered the stronghold of Congress, introducing new trains and other perks. She has sounded the war trumpet with her aggressive reforms in Railways, and her recent Rail Budget should give a clearer picture of her intensions. She has picked out her state for special treatment, as expected. But the fact remains, that the race to the Writer’s Building has spiced up, with neither TC nor the CPI (M) ready to cede an inch to the opposition camp.

Politicians indulging in clever poll politics are not a new phenomenon. But many of them forget the fact that their antics would hurt the country, while serving their interests. Pranab Mukherjee’s move to increase the fuel prices is not without reason. The oil companies were facing severe cash crunch, as they had to market the fuel at absurd prices, which did not match the global scenario. The result? They were bearing losses to the tune of 2,00,000 crore Rupees a year. The government had to step in to save these companies, with huge stimulus packages. The budget proposal is step towards de-regularization of fuel prices, in view of the recommendations of the Kiran Parikh’s Panel. The Finance Minister has the backing of the PM himself, and the rollback of the fuel price hike seems unlikely.

It would do a world of good to Mamata Banerjee to concentrate on developmental work at grassroots level, rather than involving herself in such loud display of ‘public empathy’. It is not clear as to whether the service tax would extend to Railways, but even if it does, the Rs. 16,000 crore allotment to her department in the fiscal budget should satisfy her. She might be over-reacting; she must not go overboard with her reactions. She has built a good platform for her party in West Bengal, not to mention an ever-growing support for her party. Politics apart, she must see the wisdom in the Budget rather than get fidgety over it. The Budget is good enough for our country, so it must be good enough for West Bengal too, isn’t it?

Manas Ranjan Kar

[Image courtesy: http://readaturrisk.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/mamta-banerjee111_261.jpg]