The Congress need for a New Years resolution

Written by Nistula Hebbar | Nistula Hebbar | Updated: Dec 27 2011, 05:40am hrs
This week, political watchers will have a serious case of tennis neck, watching the Lokpal ball fly across the net from Delhi to Mumbai and back again as Parliament debates the governments version of the Bill and Anna Hazare settles down for another spell of fasting, this time in Mumbai.

It will also bring the curtain down on the winter session of Parliament, a fairly elongated session, which promised much and delivered little, and even saw the government retreat on two specific occasions, from Cabinet decisions that had been supposedly made with the consent of all.

If, in UPA-1, it was the Left parties that had significant reservations about second generation reforms, in UPA-2

its the Lefts main rival, the Trinamool Congress, which has put the brakes on the government.

Why is it that Mamata Banerjee, the one political force in the country who managed to dislodge the entrenched Left influence in West Bengal in the last 37 years, has become left of Left

Be it pension reforms or foreign direct investment (FDI) in multibrand retail, it was finally a veto from Banerjee that stalled the moves. As an anti-Left force, shouldnt she be pushing for reforms

To understand this, one needs to look at the nature of the mandate that Banerjee received from the people of West Bengal and the change in the Lefts own policies under Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Banerjee was a lone MP from her party in 2004, barely managing to be heard in Parliament. The Left meanwhile had an unprecedented 60 MPs in the 14th Lok Sabhaa sweeping victory in the statethe following year and a reform-minded chief minister who would effect West Bengals great leap forward by a programme of industrialisation to drag the state out of a morass of agricultural stagnation.

Things didnt exactly pan out the way they were supposed to, and projects in Singur and Nandigram became sites of conflict between local people and the government, and also between the Left and the Trinamool Congress. Small farmers, beneficiaries of the Lefts fairly significant land reforms in the 1980s, found a new champion in Mamata Banerjee. Muslims, after the Rizwanur murder case, and forming a large part of the small peasantry in the state, gravitated towards her, forgetting her stint with the Vajpayee government in the past.

There were no new voters in West Bengal who suddenly discovered Mamata Banerjee. They were the Lefts voters who found themselves out of sync with the partys sudden proximity to big business and 30 years of incumbency. They shifted allegiance to Banerjee.

Poriborton was affected with the same set of supporters. How could Mamata Banerjee be any different from the Left, then

With no major manufacturing base in the state, local retailers and businesses are all that the state can boast of. Therefore, an opposition to FDI in multibrand retail made its way to Banerjees manifesto. As for pension reforms, Banerjee wrested the bhadralok support with great difficulty from the Left; there was no way that she was going to sign off on pensions being subject to market forces, whatever the fine print of the Pensions Bill. All over West Bengal, Trinamool pada-committees are peopled by ex-CPI (M) supporters and former card-carrying members. In West Bengal politics, therefore, not only are the interests the same, the people are, too.

The rollback of two crucial decisions under pressure from Banerjee has exposed the governments flanks. The Congress is suddenly looking hunted. The 207 Lok Sabha seats in 2009 that looked so impregnable, looks like it really isin 2011, 65 seats short of a majority.

Thus, while the government is busy setting up a crisis management unit to deal with the redux of Anna Hazares fast, they can still claim the comfort of having a significant part of the political class cheering on their side. With Mamata Banerjee, the government/ Congress is on its own. Time for a New Years resolution, perhaps