West Bengal in 2018: Volatile political atmosphere overshadows state’s achievements, individual accolades

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Updated: Dec 28, 2018 6:33 PM

Panchayat polls marred with political violence to the state topping the list of number of households electrified, to two Padma Shri awards, an Asian Games gold medal and BJP and Trinamool Congress locking horns over a proposed Rath Yatra, West Bengal hogged the limelight this year both reasons both right and wrong.

The iconic Howrah Bridge of Bengal (IE)

West Bengal, a multicultural state with a vibrant socio-political milieu, had an eventful 2018. A series of events and achievements ranging from Panchayat polls marred with political violence to the state topping the list of number of households electrified, to two Padma Shri awards, an Asian Games gold medal and BJP and Trinamool Congress locking horns over a proposed Rath Yatra, West Bengal hogged the limelight this year both reasons both right and wrong.

Politics in 2018

The West Bengal panchayat elections, termed by the BJP as the ‘big fight’ before the Lok Sabha polls, hit headlines for violence as well as the ruling party winning 34 per cent of the total panchayat seats uncontested, indicating the dominance of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s TMC in the state. A number of people lost their lives and many others were left injured in the elections that were marred by one of the worst bloodsheds the state has seen. In the recurring instances of political violence between the two major political parties across the state, many other lives were lost throughout the year.

BJP and TMC also locked horns in a court battle over the former’s plan to undertake a Rath Yatra, which was later termed as “Ganatantra Bachao Yatra” (Save Democracy Rally), as a part of their 2019 campaign. Earlier in the year, CM Banerjee also accused the Modi government of stalling state’s proposal to change West Bengal’s name to Bengal.

Economy in 2018

On the economic front, the West Bengal budget focussed on rural development in the state. The Mamata government announced a tax rebate on middle and lower income housing, exemption of agricultural income tax for tea growers and also education and rural employment cess on tea production. The government also increased the amount for the aged pension scheme and the UN award-winning, Kanyashree scheme from Rs 750 to Rs 1,000. They also launched a new scheme called ‘Rupashree’ where families with less than Rs 1.5 lakh of annual income will get Rs 25,000 for their daughter’s wedding after she turns 18.

The state also organised the “Bengal Global Business Summit” to attract industrialists and showcase the rise in GDP to 11.4 per cent in 2017-18. The mega event saw several corporate titans like Mittals, Amabanis, Adanis, Goenka and Neotia in attendance.

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Awards in 2018

Despite the volatile political ambience in the state, West Bengal also topped the lists of two central government schemes. For Saubhagya Yojana, the ambitious project by the Narendra Modi government to achieve 100 per cent electrification in states, West Bengal topped the list for bringing in electricity to 1,50,57,882 households, the highest among all other Indian states. The state also emerged as the largest beneficiary of the newly launched PM Modi’s flagship healthcare scheme – Ayushman Bharat.

2018 gifted West Bengal a bright star in the field of athletics, Swapna Barman who won the Asian Games 2018 Gold medal in the heptathlon.

Two persons from West Bengal were also awarded with the highest civilian recognition of Padma Shri this year. Suhasini Mistry, a woman who went on to make a charitable hospital after she lost her husband due to poverty and Sudhanshu Biswas, a freedom fighter-turned-social worker who worked extensively for the old and the orphans was awarded the award.

Deaths in 2018

This year, Pather Panchali – the Bengali classic by master auteur Satyajit Ray, got a place at BBC’s list of 100 best foreign-language films. However, the cultural world lost some of its greatest stalwarts this year, including Sahitya Akademi award-winning poet Nirendranath Chakrabarty – lovingly called as ‘Kolkata’r Jishu’ (The Jesus of Calcutta), whose social satires are still unmatched. Veteran singer and Padma Bhushan award-winner Dwijen Mukherjee, whose ‘Jago Durga’ wakes up Bengal on the eve of Mahalaya, every year before Durga Puja and another Sahitya Academy awardee Bengali writer Ramapada Chowdhury, also passed away this year.

CPIM veteran and former minister Nirupam Sen, who waved the flag of the state’s industrialisation under the leadership of former CM Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, Marxist economist Ashok Mitra, who also served as chief economic adviser to the Government of India and veteran parliamentarian and Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee also passed away this year.

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