This story is from about 20 years ago! A person from Kolkata came to visit our office in Delhi. He got my address from somewhere, had hopped onto the Kalka Mail and come to meet me. He was only 22-years-old. What was the purpose of his visit? Just to get a job.
I didn’t know him. He was quite frantic. He said to me: I know only you can help me with a job. I asked him: How are you so sure that I can help you get a job? He said: I know you’re a reporter and journalists can do everything. I said, Alright! What kind of a job are you looking for? A Government job, he said, adding: Since I am young I will get one. I asked him why a government job?
He said: I need a Government job for three reasons. Firstly, soon after my retirement I’ll get a pension. Secondly, unless there is a huge theft, I won’t lose my job and thirdly, I don’t have to work in this job. As soon as my working hours end or, rather, a few minutes before that, I can leave the office to attend my drama rehearsals and later I can go to the club to play carrom.
Listening to him that day, I was upset that a 22-year-old, who had not even begun to work, was thinking about a pension, thinking about getting a job where he didn’t have to work. I wondered whether this was in our Bengali DNA? Bengalis love politics, and it appears as if every tea stall in each locality is nothing but a mini Parliament. All know-it-alls, the ‘Chandimandap’ from the film ‘Ashani Sanket’. Is it not yet the time for the work culture to change? Are we still busy with political intrigue and wasting our lives? Will politics become our source of income?
After Mamata Banerjee came to power as Chief Minister by defeating the CPI(M), she had attended a meeting at Calcutta Club where she had said that she knew many had misunderstood her in the context of the Singur agitation. She said she didn’t have an option because her priority was to protect the rights of the farmers. But that didn’t mean she didn’t want industry in Bengal, or that she didn’t want development in Bengal. “I want both development and industry but I need your help,” she had said.
Listening to Mamata Banerjee’s speech, our editor wanted me to ask the Chief Minister about her plans for industry in the state and that an interview could be scheduled on the subject. I spoke to her. Mamata Banerjee replied firmly: I want development not dispute. I want a healthy relationship between the Centre and the State. This was displayed as an eight-column lead interview in the newspaper.
Early in the morning, I received a phone call from the CPI(M) leader of that time Nirupam Sen, the former Minister of Industries in the state. He said, “Best of luck. Mamata and industry! If you can do it, I’ll be happy.” I replied that the issue was not about me doing it. The Chief Minister had stated that she wanted development. I asked, “Will you be putting your hands forward to help or will you continue with the politics of opposition as the opposition party?”
Many years have passed since. For the sake of Bengal, for the sake of Bengal’s economy, isn’t development the top priority? There have been elections earlier, there are elections now and there will be elections in future. There was a time when I witnessed the Congress as the ruling party and the CPI(M) in opposition: Congress vs CPI(M). Then, the CPI(M) came to power and the Congress became the opposition: from CPI(M) vs Congress it became CPI(M) vs Trinamool Congress. And now it’s Trinamool Congress vs BJP. Where was BJP? In Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s state, West Bengal, what had been the position of this party? If there is a ruling party, there will be an opposition too. Any one of the opposition parties will take the place of the ruling party. Today the range is captured by the BJP. Once again, an election is knocking at the door.
This ‘BJP vs Trinamool Congress’ situation won’t go away but will rather get magnified. For this, shall we keep Centre-State relations in a state of flux? Or will it be the right thing to move ahead on Centre-State relations in a healthy way? What the Trinamool Congress has done in the past against the Centre or what it hasn’t, is that the main question at the moment? Or keeping aside the disagreement, is it expected of us in this situation to wish for the state to move towards development?
I recall when Prime Minister Narendra Modi went for his Dhaka trip, he had a meeting with Sheikh Hasina. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee went from Kolkata. The Prime Minister and the Chief Minister stayed in different hotels. The Prime Minister was to visit Sheikh Hasina and Mamata Banerjee was also to attend the meeting. From Sheikh Hasina’s home, an attempt was made towards India-Bangladesh friendship. Prime Minister Modi sent a message to Mamata Banerjee that a bus would begin its journey from Sheikh Hasina’s home towards Kolkata. Before he met Sheikh Hasina, he was interested in speaking with the Chief Minister. It was decided that Modi and the Chief Minister would arrive for the meeting in the Indian Prime Minister’s car. Prior to that, I wanted to know from Mamata Banerjee whether she had ever travelled in the Prime Minister’s car in this country or outside. She said: No!
This was the first time in a foreign land that a Chief Minister was being accompanied by the Prime Minister to meet the Prime Minister of the same land in his car — this is not insignificant. Even with Jayalalitha or MGR, no such incident has come to light of the Indian Prime Minister going to Sri Lanka and taking them along to meet the Lankan President at his residence. There was no BJP or Trinamool Congress politics behind the two leaders travelling together to meet Sheikh Hasina. This was about the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of a state being united in trying to protect the national interest. This they did in the interest of the country, state and for the common interest of Bangladesh and India.
In the World-Bengal conference in Kolkata, Mamata Banerjee had invited the late Finance Minister Arun Jaitley apart from Piyush Goyal, Nitin Gadkari and Suresh Prabhu. All these Central ministers turned up in Bengal to attend the conference. I still remember, when I landed in Kolkata with Arun Jaitley, I saw Derek O’Brien and Firhad Hakim, and the BJP’s Siddharth Nath Singh who had come to receive the Minister. There was friendly banter and jokes between O’Brien and Singh. Politics will remain in its place but these conversations should never end. I took a picture of Siddharth with Derek. I asked whether there was any need to quarrel just because one loved to?
Several industrialists had attended the dinner at the conference — industrialists like Sanjiv Goenka and Harsh Neotia. No one attacked one another to take political advantage. That was because the issue was development, an attempt at the growth of the state. When Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, he told me in an interview that if in a human body blood starts to clot in the heart, it won’t be possible for the person to survive. It is necessary for the blood to be distributed all over the body. That I will work as head of the Centre in Delhi, far away from the states without any relation to them, and I will be fighting with them — this cannot happen. Blood should be distributed all over the states, only then will it be possible for people to survive.
Unfortunately today, somehow, we are forgetting his words in the dust storm of trickery of votes. Why should the state not receive its share of GST collections? Raising this question is not politics. Arun Jaitley had said that the state will receive the money. This is the liability of the Centre. The Centre is saying that it has no money and the state must take the amount as loan. The Centre will arrange for the loan and the state has to repay the amount. This is a mere disagreement but is not quarrelling. Reformist economist and editor Swaminathan Aiyar said that the Centre must provide the money to the state. If no such arrangements have been made, the nation’s economy will be affected. This is a debate: various opinions can be presented regarding this. But within the debate is involved a matter related to development.
The words exchanged regarding the formation of the federation through ordinance by avoiding the state is named ‘Quasi Federalism’. In 1947, after independence, when power and administration were transferred from the kings to individual political leaders of independent parties — behind this if there was anyone who had a role to play, it was Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. In 1956 in Delhi, Nikita Khrushchev had asked in a tone of amusement how India had made the impossible, possible! It was no laughing matter to bring all the states that had been divided into kingdoms under the umbrella of democracy! We are proud of this even today. Isn’t it our priority to settle the Centre-State dispute?
Let there be ideological differences and political opposition. But the Centre must not deprive a state of what is its right. The Centre, through their hypothesis, is trying to achieve victory of the BJP programme, and the state through its programme is seeking success for the state. It would be better if the state is given its right by the Centre and help on the issue of development in the spirit of collaboration. It is necessary to understand the people of West Bengal, behind this development lies the future of the next generation. Today, development should be the top priority for the Bengali. The next generation of Bengalis should no longer think like the youngster who met me twenty years ago.
(Jayanta Ghosal is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal)