Sunday, May 22, 2011

LA NUIT BENGAL

The Telegraph, Editorial

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110522/jsp/opinion/story_14011424.jsp

The wise believe that everyone has two countries — France and her own. It is a relief to realize that the chief minister of West Bengal, the redoubtable Mamata Banerjee, is not an exception to this sage generalization. Her cabinet, announced after much drama very early on Saturday morning, will bring to mind the old French saying, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’’ (“The more things change, the more they stay the same.’’) Change is, paradoxically, the guarantee of continuity. Ms Banerjee, it may be recalled despite the euphoria, had promised a small and compact cabinet. But she announced that her government would have 44 ministers. This is exactly the number her predecessor had in his cabinet. Under the existing law, West Bengal can only have 44 ministers since the upper limit for the number of ministers is 15 per cent of the total strength of the legislative assembly. Maximum leaders thus form maximum cabinets. Ms Banerjee has kept up with her rival. At the height of the Sino-Soviet dispute, the Chinese increased the alcohol content of the local vodka by a full percentage point to keep up with the Russians. Ms Banerjee has demonstrated that she is second to none in keeping up with the comrades.

By forming a large cabinet, Ms Banerjee has violated a very elementary principle. What is good politics is not necessarily good governance. Even its critics will be forced to admit that the Left was good in politics, otherwise it could not have been elected seven times in a row. But the Left also ran an incompetent government, in fact, one of the worst in India. This resulted in West Bengal’s humiliating decline in all spheres. The point can be illustrated with a different example. The creation of numerical quotas through reservations makes for good politics as it brings electoral dividends, but it is certainly not good governance as it reduces the society’s and the country’s dependence on merit and competence.

The largeness of Ms Banerjee’s cabinet is directly related to the largeness of her electoral success. Her triumph brings with it too many winners and too many expectations. To meet these expectations, she has, like her predecessor, chosen to address the demands of her party. Her party is only one of the stakeholders in the making of West Bengal. There are other stakeholders: most notably the people of the state. She has put the interests of one group of stakeholders above the others. This is the downside of a bloated victory. It has resulted in a bloated government. She would do well to remember that both Rajiv Gandhi and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee had massive mandates that led to very high expectations, even outside the party. By failing to meet these expectations through good governance, they lost in subsequent elections. If Ms Banerjee overlooks these lessons, Bengal will not emerge from darkness.


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