Tempest of change

Adaptive solutions are the weapons with which the Trinamul Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front propose to tackle the anxieties and expectations generated by “climate change”. Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee’s paribartan (change) — a slogan she coined before the 2006 state

Assembly elections — was an urgent, if not imperative, demand that the ecological damage to the society, polity and economy of West Bengal needed a different helmsperson.
Having got off the mark faster than everyone else, Ms Banerjee’s manifesto is, therefore, an important document for it provides the blueprint of the adaptive solutions that she intends to initiate as soon as she comes to power in West Bengal. The concern is that reversing ecological damage is a slow and cautious process rather than the sort of “Do It Now, first 200 days” promises that both chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Ms Banerjee have made.
As with the real climate change, the process of change in society and governance is slow. And by the time it becomes scientifically true, certain kinds of irreversible changes have already happened. For instance, no one is going to be able to push the population and their investments, no matter how large the compensation, out of the dangerously fragile coastal or Sundarbans delta zone. Likewise, the Trinamul Congress and the CPI(M), in the short term, cannot dismantle the crisscrossed networks of interests that operate across West Bengal.
Not even if the Trinamul Congress succeeds in doing what Ms Banerjee believes will happen — that not one CPI(M) candidate will be left standing like the proverbial lone survivor on the burning deck — can the negative impact of “climate change” be reversed in one election. For in some places the CPI(M)’s existence cannot be uprooted. In the Sundarbans, it would be difficult to imagine a landscape without the CPI(M), just as it would be impossible to think of Burdwan district without the red flag.
The point, however, is not where the toughest challenges exist for the climate changers, for they are on both sides of the political divide. The point is how can adaptive solutions be dreamt up for a manifesto and an election be the roadmap for serious political transformation and with that an economic transformation that cannot be obstructed any longer. The obstacles to the two transformations that are urgent cannot be underestimated. Mr Bhattacharjee came a cropper over the deep-seated resistance that worked as the seed capital for Ms Banerjee to launch and spectacularly succeed with her paribartan and its accompanying and confusing but alliterative slogan — Maa, Mati, Manush (mother, land, people).
Like all capital, the interest networks, including the owners of the 400 acres as per Ms Banerjee’s claims in Singur, switched from investing in the CPI(M) to investing in the Trinamul Congress because they believed that the gains from the new political force would be much higher than from the old one. Like all capital, the switchers and those who stayed attached to the old investment are being required by this 2011 election to calculate where their best advantage lies.
In other words, the voter is being forced to think about risk. How much is to be gained from risking their all on the Trinamul Congress? For there is no ambiguity about who will drive the change agenda and the fact that the Congress will be an insignificant contributor to the framing of future policy and its implementation, just as the Trinamul Congress, in the final analysis, is inconsequential to the Congress’ policy initiatives at the Centre. Seen as the typical fancy document that every company unloads when it is wooing the public to part with its money through the equity route, the Trinamul Congress manifesto exudes exactly the same sort of optimism. It promises all things to all sections of voters in the belief that contradictions can finally be resolved through that one great adaptive force, Ms Banerjee herself. And, therein lies the problem.
Unless the Trinamul Congress can make up its mind about where it will focus its energies through the government of reconciliation, which it has promised to set up, it will do exactly what it has done with the railways. It will rush in where angels have learnt that treading unwarily can be disastrous, as the CPI(M) discovered when it failed to protect the Tata Motors factory in Singur from people’s resistance. As the recent order by the Kolkata high court halting the Dankuni factory for the manufacture of electrical and diesel engine components, the pride and joy of Ms Banerjee’s incredibly nimble stewardship of the railways and symbol of the industrial regeneration of West Bengal reveals, there are local interests that do not share the Trinamul Congress’ enthusiasm for what it does.
The caution required to handle “climate change” through adaptive solutions is not evident in Ms Banerjee’s very upbeat messages to voters. Armed with a “positive attitude” and exuding confidence that her way is the way forward for all of West Bengal, Ms Banerjee is probably being both unrealistic and dangerously reckless. The outcome is that the CPI(M) has launched a rectification programme through which it has signalled that the abusers of power and vested interests will be excluded; some 23,000 workers have been sidelined and 1,100 have been sacked. It has also abandoned its “Do It Now” stand, apologised for its heedless promotion of capitalism and tried to win back the capital that fled around the Singur agitation.
The “first 200 days” agenda is ambitious and a unilateral declaration of change. For it to work, every local and networked interest, it must be assumed, has done its calculation and decided that everything that the Trinamul Congress proposes to do is to its advantage. Alas, that will never be the case. For the 200-day agenda includes much raking and sounds suspiciously like vendetta. Should political capital decide to hedge its bets both ways, then the climate change programme would end up making very little difference as compromise and compacts will be the order of things rather than change.

Shikha Mukerjee is a senior journalist in Kolkata

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