ON RECORD-BENGAL NEWSLETTER
By Anirban Ganguly
After their February 19 political grand show at the Brigade Parade ground in Kolkata this year, the Communists are visibly upbeat. They now have a politically maturing Opposition leadership, have managed to catch Mamata Banerjee doing a number of faux pas and have appeared to have successfully countered her accusations. On the whole there is a sense of deep satisfaction in the ranks of the comrades and carried away by their logical positioning of facts and figures a section of the media is already pointing at the failure of the TMC led coalition in Bengal within a mere nine months of coming to power.
In effect, their argument seems to be that the ill effects of thirty-four years of degenerative rule ought to be set right within a span of six months and since Mamata Banerjee has crossed the six months phase and has failed to bring about solutions to all the problems of the State, they seem to argue, she has in effect lost the game. Meanwhile the Congress sensing at last an opportunity is trying to politically isolate their troublesome national ally has started fishing in troubled waters. While attacking the record of the nine months old TMC government, the Communists have been unsparingly vocal and caustic, choosing to forget their own record of governance that affected the State not so long and which even today continues to make its extreme ill-effects felt. Be it health, education, or law and order the comrades have over the years badly compromised the system. It would be instructive therefore to have a brief look at the comrades’ record in the principal sectors of governance and laying bare their past record of subverting and dismantling the State machinery of governance.
To start with health, the AMRI inferno in December 2011 which killed 90 patients was another legacy of their rule. In the spot occupied by the AMRI once stood a State run polyclinic catering to the people of the area, but eventually under a public private partnership venture the land was given over to the AMRI with the government holding initially a 51 per cent share. As the AMRI top bosses proximity to the comrades increased they were allotted land at throw away prices all over the city and flouted all norms of safety in constructions. The then government eventually whittled down its share to 2 per cent allowing them a free run. The December inferno and patient deaths is a stark example of the subversion of the systems of governance by the comrades over the years in power and of how even though they had created with much fanfare a Fire Services Department, they regularly allowed norms to be flouted in exchange of hefty donations to the party coffers. The devastating fire in Kolkata’s commercial hub Burrabazar that raged for a full three days in January 2008 and gutted around 2,500 shops was a stark manifestation of the comrades’ callous attitude and corruption
The recent cases of child deaths in hospitals across the State are proof of the collapse of the health sector under Communist rule. It is perhaps in the field of health that the comrades let down the people most badly. Their government ‘failed to create an effective primary and secondary health care infrastructure in Bengal’ while absenteeism among rural doctors became an endemic problem. It is said that since 1977 hardly any infrastructure worth the name e.g. had been created in the State for cardiology, nephrology, psychiatry and hematology for the rural areas. For all major surgeries, dialysis patients from the villages had to either go to Kolkata or travel outside the State. The comrades did not seriously address the State’s fiscal crisis initially, and citing the issue later allowed the share of West Bengal’s budget for health to decline sharply from 6.0 per cent in 1999/2000 to around 3.9 per cent in 2003/04. And the expenditure cuts in the Department of Health and Family Welfare was affected mainly by letting the ‘number of staff vacancies to rise.’ It is estimated that 10 per cent of all medical posts are lying vacant today in the State. Surely six months is insufficient to totally transform this scenario. Worst still the Communist never thought it necessary to create medical education infrastructure in the State. In the last 34 years, e.g., only three medical colleges have come up in Bengal, out of which only two were set-up by the enlightened people’s government. Meanwhile in a State like Karnataka in the past ten years more than 15 medical colleges have come up, six of which have been set-up by the government. The comrades allowed the government health system in the State to perpetually remain on the verge of collapse by giving a free reign to private players who began dominating the field and often adopting unethical medical practices under party protection. In fact it was under the Communists that West Bengal topped in the anemia in children index displaying the true nature of the State healthcare and of welfare schemes. (PK Rana, BP Mishra, Ailing Health Status in West Bengal Critical Analysis, Journal of Law, Policy and Globalisation, Vol. 2, 2012, Lest We Forget, The Telegraph, Kolkata, May 14, 2011) The recent crib deaths are but the latest manifestation of a rot that had set in long ago and has gone very deep, the comrades cannot escape blame for it, it is solely their making however inept the present government may be in handling the current situation.
The case of the law enforcers is equally pathetic. In 1979 Comrade Jyoti Basu injecting politics in the police forced the creation of the Calcutta Police Association, the first ever political union of a police force in the country. This move paved the way for the wholesale politicisation of the force by the formation of ‘non-gazetted unions in the district police lines. The personnel in uniform thus became an extension of the party allowing inefficiency, corruption and lethargy to set in. 34 years of such a state of affairs has robbed the entire police force of all dynamism and habit of initiative. The lawlessness in West Bengal that is so being noticed by the media today – though it is perhaps nothing compared to the crime rates of the national capital where even Bollywood divas find it unsafe to perform these days– has not developed over just half a year, it is again the manifestations of a deeper degeneration in the entire system. It is a degeneration that the comrades did much to usher in with their brazen political patronage and misuse of State apparatus. A section of the national media has over the last few days allotted prime time television space to incidents of rape in West Bengal conveniently forgetting that Delhi from where they choose to set the national news agenda continues to have a far dismal track record in the matter and that too inspite of having an ‘experienced’ woman Chief Minister at the helm! In fact when a sensational case of attack on women officers of the state health department by a Muslim mob had taken place sometime in 1990 the then Chief Minister comrade Jyoti Basu referring to the incident had remarked Ae rokom to kotoi hoye (Such incidents are very common) and argued that these in no way suggested the breakdown of law and order while his Health Minister Prasanta Sur came up ‘with another classic quote: “Everyone knows that the area is unsafe. What were the ladies doing there at 7.30 pm?’ (Maitreyee Chatterjee, ‘Covering up from Bantala to Dhantala’, The Statesman, February 19, 2003). Thus irresponsible statements have never been the monopoly of the plebian Mamata Banerjee it has equally been the habit and the norm with the more patrician patriarch comrade Basu and his lesser followers in ideology whom he tutored in governance and statecraft over a long period of a quarter of a century.
Over the years the Communists have sheltered and nurtured a large number of criminal gangs, the entire issue came out in the open in 2001 when a gang of 16 criminals brought over from various parts of the State in order to create disturbances during the Assembly polls were apprehended by the State police from the government run Salt Lake Stadium guest house. The then Communist sports minister in whose fief the stadium fell said he did not know any of them and that they were goons hired by the TMC for creating political disturbances. Take the case of the hooch kingpin Badshah whose illicit liquor brewery killed around 172 people last December in West Bengal and who was eventually apprehended in January this year. The illicit liquor baron was also a longtime protégé of the comrades and it was once estimated that the Communists allowed around 27,000 illicit breweries to do brisk business in the State. But the comrades have never had the habit of publicly accepting responsibility for their misdeeds. Their call for probity and transparency is only meant for the others never for themselves.
The comrades are now raising a hue and cry over the handling of the present food crisis and over some reported farmer suicides in the State. Ironically this too is a legacy of Communist rule. The proletarian’s government has not been able to ensure even the minimum modicum of food security for the ‘subalterns.’ In 2007, e.g., food riots erupted all over the State with the breakdown of the PDs system. It was pointed out that the extreme economic hardships had finally driven the people of rural Bengal – with traditionally high levels of endurance – towards desperation. Hunger and starvation under the comrades had actually driven the proletariat to revolt and the PDS once the life line of the rural populace in the State was allowed to wither away. As one analyst put it, the problem was not of production but of distribution.
(To be concluded)