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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 45, October 29, 2011

Taming the Beasts

Saturday 5 November 2011, by Samit Kar

West Bengal has seen Friday, May 13 this year. The majority of the Bengalis might not have considered this day horrifying as the poll outcome did suggest. Instead, this day did mark the cut-off point of a long legacy which made West Bengal to be a State with a difference. The difference was not limited to the gamut of political affiliation. There had been a rise of a number of impediments which made this State to become unmanageable to render good governance. This happens to be the horror of West Bengal. The outcome of Friday, May 13 gave a counter-dose.

The horrors over the years have become the beasts of Bengal which need to be tamed. What are the beasts we are talking about?

The most ferocious beast of West Bengal happens to be the incredible population density: the 2011 Census states about the residency of 1029 individuals in each square kilometre area of land. This is the highest figure of population density for any State in India. There had been arguments by leading sociologists that an abysmal population density and an equally huge size of population of any individual country is enough to make the country land up in jeopardy. This made the State to languish in want of livelihood, in want of income-generating avenues and the opportunity to have a decent way of living. The challenge to allay this menace is not a mean task.

Mamata Banerjee said that she is eager to prepare a data-bank to have a correct head-count of persons remaining in the payroll of the Government of West Bengal. She says, there is no official figure indicating the exact number of employees working with the Government of West Bengal. However, over the years it was oft-repeated that the roll strength of the government staff is eight lakhs which is again the highest for any State Government in India. To make the situation more agonising, the debt burden of Rs 2 lakh crores with the pundits opining that the revenue-generating potentials are not robust coupled with laxity, inefficiency and corruption among a section of officials engaged in the task of resource mobilisation. But will the new government be eager to initiate some stringent measures to strengthen and widen the tax-base when a large number of people languish in abject poverty?

Over the years, the Government of West Bengal did endeavour to provide a semblance of succour by welcoming a large number of people within its dragnet of huge salary bill in order to provide them with a socio-economic insulation. Therefore, the roll strength of the government employees became unmanageable. People, who had been working in schools, colleges, panchayats or municipalities and many other local bodies, are being paid monthly salary from the government coffer. But this ultimately proves to be more an act of charity to individual families instead of having a significant impact on the work culture and the mindset of a section of government officials. Therefore, the commitment of the Government of West Bengal to honour many of the servants as public servants proved to have little impact to render vibrant governance in the welfare of the people at large.

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A section of the government officials who do form the largest administrative edifice of a State Government did indulge in over-zealous persua-sion of democratic rights without remaining alert on the discharge of the duties for which they decorate the offices. In order to go scot-free, the workmen at various levels did indulge in rampant trade unionism often at the cost of rendering invaluable service to the people for whom they had been assigned the role of public servants. This mindset among a section of the workmen did vitiate the work culture of West Bengal to a very significant extent. But it would be erroneous to consider that the slogan-shouting workmen of West Bengal are die-hard Leftists to the core. Instead, they did take recourse to Leftist trade unionism in order to remain safe under the cover of some people who were part of the establishment.

I would like to personally share an experience about the Leftist content of the trade union movement which had played the spoilsport. In 2000-01, the government decided to set up a one-man committee under the chairmanship of a former Vice-Chancellor of a State University who was known to have Leftist leanings. The expert was given the task to examine whether the teachers serving in government colleges should sign daily registers during the time of their attendance and departure to make them render higher quality of inputs. It was quite a shock to see that in almost all the government colleges, the expert while on a visit did face strong opposition in his inclination to introduce the practice of signing the daily attendance register. One teacher, who was also known to have a favourable disposition towards the Left, did raise his voice in support of the inclination of the government in favour of introduction of signing the attendance register. Very strangely, it was seen that the concerned teacher was publicly censored by the teachers’ association whose leadership was known to be strongly Leftist and did have day-to-day contact with the mandarins of the party office and the highest echelons of the government. This is no doubt an eloquent testimony of the Leftist content of trade unionism in West Bengal. This has done great harm to the Leftists which they may now be able to understand.

Therefore, the sagging work culture, which happens to be a big beast before development planning in West Bengal, is not a gift of politicisation of the Leftists. On the contrary, the ideal and philosophy of the Leftists got hijacked by a large number of workmen who were known to be less socially committed and more indivi-dually oriented in order to derive maximum possible personal benefit. When the economy of the State is in absolute doldrums due to abysmal population density, a mammoth volume of educated unemployed labour force, a huge debt burden, the people of West Bengal, especially the public servants, should have contributed more in order to give the sagging economy a fresh lease of life. But without showing the desired zeal on their part, they did resort to a negative mindset by unnecessarily getting involved in militant trade unionism under the banner of the Left leading the socially committed philosophy of the Left to take a big beating. This resulted in the Left becoming poorer at the expense of a group of opportunist workmen whose performance as public servants is definitely condemnable. No doubt, there are indeed a number of honest, efficient and committed public servants. It is high time they take the lead in order to ensure a turnaround in West Bengal. Mamata Banerjee is a leader of a political outfit and it does have its frontal organisations in various trades. It needs to be seen whether the men crowding these trades hijack the avowed ideals of the new Chief Minister as they did so in the past. French legend Napoleon Bonaparte used to say, what I need is to have some lucky military Generals in order to win wars. What West Bengal now needs is to have some devoted and committed souls to save the State from gasping to death.

The author is an Associate Professor of Sociology, Presidency University, Kolkata.

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