West Bengal's economy is mostly in the hands of the unorganized sector and is neither capital nor labour-intensive which has resulted in unemployment & migration of educated youth to the more prosperous western & southern states.
After regaining the crown of Bengal with a thumping majority in 3rd consecutive elections, the supreme leader of TMC is eyeing to become the flag bearer of the opposition unity at the national level. After the victory, she is consistently trying to increase TMC’s footprint over the several states in the country. Defeating the mighty BJP in a bitterly fought election has given her the legitimacy of becoming the leader of opposition unity, but the moot question remains ‘where is the Bengal model of governance?’
Winning a state thrice
After winning Gujarat for the 3rd time in 2012, Modi was considered the de facto contender to clinch power in the 2014 general elections. The Modi’s victory was considered a person’s mandate over the success of ‘Gujarat Model. It was a model of good governance, growth & private entrepreneurship-driven development & augmentation of the state’s infrastructure. People across the country have heard or experienced this model, wanted Modi to emulate it for the whole of India. Hence, the victory of Modi in 2014. When opposition lacks a strong face against PM Modi, Mamata Banerjee, having won a state thrice, is keen to fill that gap.
Where is Mamata’s Bengal model?
Bengal, the epicentre of socio-political activities & also a financial hub in colonial times, has seen a steady decline in all economic parameters post-independence. Bengal’s industrial development started declining in the mid-1960s & never galloped again. After the economic reforms of 1991, Bengal’s communist government, as late as 2006 under CM Bhattacharya, tried setting up Indonesia’s Salem group’s chemical hub at Nandigram, Tata Nano car plant in Singur. Mamata Banerjee vociferously agitated at gaining political mileage, stalling both the projects. Since then, no big industry has invested in Bengal. Hence, West Bengal’s share in FDI also stood at only 1 per cent in 2019-20.
Even though the state has recorded growth in the MSME sector, it is neither capital nor labour-intensive. This has resulted in unemployment & migration of educated youth to the more prosperous western & southern states. Therefore, the state’s economy is mostly in the hands of the unorganized sector, which means the state has low tax revenue generation & results in nearly 33% debt to GSDP ratio the year before the pandemic struck, which is amongst five states which have this ratio over 30%. Hence, even after ruling Bengal for ten years, Mamata does not have a Modi kind of development, growth model to present before the voters of the country.
What is the perception of TMC in the rest of India?
Since the communist regime, Bengal has been the hotbed of political violence. When Mamata Banerjee was in opposition, she was the victim of violent attacks by the Leftist cadres. After she ousted the Left government in 2011, many believed her emergence would end this culture of violence, political murders, etc. But the Panchayat elections in 2018 shattered this dream when bombs were hurled at opposition candidates & many could not contest elections. Since then, as the BJP started working on the ground & galvanizing the masses on Durga Pooja & other matters of Hindutva, the TMC cadre became much more violent. The everyday news related to violence & political killings of BJP workers created a negative perception of TMC & Mamata Banerjee in other parts of India, where incidences of political violence are rare. Another image of Mamata is a Muslim appeaser because of the stoppage of Durga Pooja's processions on Muharram. This could hurt her prospects in the states where the Muslim population does not sway the balance of power. Hence, considering this perception, she will need an image makeover & the Gujrat like development model, which Modi had to draw votes from states other than Bengal.
Which are the states she is eyeing?
TMC has been trying to woo the disgruntled Congress leaders having some mass base in some areas of a particular state in the last few months. She began with Sushmita Dev, ex-MP & president of All India Mahila Congress and whose father was a 5- time MP from Silchar & a 2-time MP from Tripura. She is a Bengali. She is given the responsibility of Tripura & Assam. TMC, which always had some presence in Tripura, is again trying to gain some ground & is making efforts to oust the saffron party in the 2023 elections. Sushmita Dev is hitting the ground consistently to fulfil the cause. In September, another leader, Luizinho Faleiro, former Goa CM & 7th term MLA from Navelim constituency, joined TMC.
Followed by Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the state, TMC will be seriously fighting Goa elections. It successfully merged 2/3rd of the Congress legislative party in Meghalaya and Ex-CM Mukul Sangma. In her recent visit to Delhi & Mumbai, she tried to connect with the personalities who have voiced their opinions against the ruling dispensation at Delhi. She tried to portray that these so-called eminent dissenters do not have faith in the Congress & believe Mamata Banerjee as the face of change. Going further, she even may try to woo G-23 leaders to get them into the TMC & would try to build the base in the states where some of these leaders are capable sway the public opinion in her favour making a dent in the Congress established vote bank.
What would be the impact?
Getting the reasonably strong regional Congress satraps can bring some of their traditional votes into TMC’s kitty, but it won’t fulfil Mamata Banerjee’s ambitions. Getting a stronghold over the masses in states other than that of Bengal would again a need ‘Bengal Model’ make them vote for TMC as a party & not at the behest of local strongmen. TMC or AAPs entry in the states where BJP & Congress are the only contenders will only benefit BJP as any of these two parties will inevitably make inroads into Congress’ vote bank considering their strong views against BJP & Modi.
In conclusion, even though Mamata Banerjee has won Bengal convincingly, her case to become a pan India face of opposition unity is still not convincing.