New Delhi: Singur goes to the polls on April 10, Saturday. The name of this place certainly should evoke a debate on industrialisation in West Bengal and how things had turned under the communists’ regime.
Analysing the history and absence of industries in Bengal, it ought to be stated that there are two factors – historical and political. Firstly, when India’s capital was shifted from Kolkata/Calcutta to Delhi, there were some impacts. The beginning the decline of the jute industry perhaps started since then. The state of West Bengal or eastern India began to lose its eminent position to ‘Bombay’ or western India. The lack of cooperation between India and then East Pakistan after Independence/1947 also led to further decline of the jute industry.
The political reason was of course the overwhelming influence of communists and the mindset it created for decades to come. People developed a dislike for capitalism and also hard work. Then came militant trade unionism and a mindset that justified ‘lockout’ in industrial units for months. Unfortunately, the same mindset continues!
Even now as the state is undergoing the massive election season, there is a deliberate attempt to play up the outsider card against the BJP. Nowhere in India during the last six years, the saffron party and especially the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo has heard the ‘bhoiragati’ tag – not even in southern states where traditionally the BJP was dismissed earlier as a ‘north Indian’ party.
Sadly, the outsider tag was given to BJP leaders in a state from which came to a political protagonist named Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Back to the industry debate, for some time it was given out that the central government’s ‘Freight Equalisation Policy’ that started in 1950-51 has harmed the West Bengal industry. This is definitely an issue. But to put the entire blame on this ‘Freight Equalisation Policy’ would not be correct.
This policy allowed the taking of minerals from eastern Indian states to other states especially the west and north. But this same policy affected the states of Odisha and Bihar (then included Jharkhand) as well. But the damage and sordid scene of industries as in Bengal are in no other state.
To state the fact, West Bengal’s industrialisation problems owe their origins to labour-related issues, an unhealthy atmosphere created around industrial units, militant trade unionism backed by Leftist forces in power and the work culture. People developed a love for shying away from work and then again unions became ‘protectors’. These left both short term and long term impact. There is yet another crucial facet.
Bengal’s industrialisation issues also are due to a unique synthesis of ‘Bangla regionalism’ and the ‘communists’ movement’. In the 1960s when Ajoy Mukherjee of Bangla Congress and Jyoti Basu of the Leftists formed a government together, it did take up the issues of native Bengalis. But somewhere it crossed the limits as well. People seemed to have lost control.
‘Dada giri’ became a normal thing in factories. Managers and work supervisors started being assaulted. And to be truthful, Jyoti Basu’s entire career throughout the 1970s, 1980s and even later – things did not change. Bengal could not come out of the ‘well’ the state had created for itself. Basu did benefit from the anti-New Delhi narrative, but the state suffered for a long.
And see the irony, ultimately, it was Basu’s successor Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, who had to pay a price. The state was handed over to Mamata Banerjee!
After assuming office in the 1960s, the United Front government of Ajoy Mukherjee issued a circular directing the police not to interfere in gheraos (besieging blockades) unless having permission from the state Minister of Labour. Obviously, there was a sharp rise in gheraos in connection to labour disputes. In May 1967 there were 151 gheraos in West Bengal, compared to 32 in March.
The Calcutta High Court intervened and nullified the circular. The United Front government – where the illustrious Jyoti Basu was Deputy CM, responded by issuing a new circular on June 12, 1967. The new circular differentiated between ‘legitimate’ and ‘unlawful’ actions in labour conflicts, barring police yet again from intervening in legitimate trade union activities.
This was the time Naxalism made its foray. The Bengali mindset was ‘spoiled’ so much by Left-Liberal narrative that there came a slogan – “Amar naam Vietnam…..Amar bari Naxalbari”. Mamata Banerjee did not even try to change things.