Bengal First

Transform by putting Bengal First

Roopen Roy April 08, 2011

(Views expressed are personal)

Transformation (Roopantar) involves change (Paribartan). But it is much deeper and more profound. Change can be from bad to worse. Transformation follows a predictable pattern–like the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. It is a process not an event. What should we do to transform Bengal?

There is no shortage of good ideas in Bengal. There is , arguably, a lack of vision , a deficiency in relentless focus on implementation and an absence of a mechanism that tracks progress against promises. Mindful of that, I hesitantly, offer only three suggestions.

First, by instinct, I am wary of any “change in form” that does not bring about a “change in substance”. The French have a saying, “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose” – the more it changes the more it remains the same. I would like to give it a Bengali name Fokla Paribartan –change without teeth. We must transform not just change. And we must have a publicly available score card that tracks delivery against promises.

Second, we should nurture a culture of “all party consensus” on a limited number of “Golden Goose” issues. Both political parties whether in government or in opposition, must take a pledge and they will not try to wring the neck of the golden goose to make it lay the last egg. On these issues, they must put Bengal First and above their partisan interests. What kind of issues? Let me begin with two. No matter who said what and when, without industrialization we will not create economic growth, prosperity and employment in Bengal. Period. So no one should do anything that vitiates the atmosphere of industrialization in the state. Second, we must improve the work ethic. Let us talk turkey on bandhs. While recognizing the democratic rights of strikes –we cannot gift ourselves the sobriquet of “The Bandh Capital of the World”. Whatever be our feelings about bombing in Libya or the harmads in Somalia, we cannot paralyze the state hurting everyone particularly the poorest . We cannot prevent willing people from going to work. Why do we choose only Mondays and Fridays for shutting down the state? Is there a message in this madness? This deadly addiction cuts across party lines. . Samar Sen, who was no representative of the bourgeoisie, said with great anguish that if a Bengali clerk was asked to stay back for a revolution after 5 PM he may ask for overtime. Our work ethic must transform.

Lastly, let us turn the epigram “ Geography is history” on its head. If you really want to” Look East your best vantage point is Bengal. Blistering growth in most of this century is going to happen in the East. China has emerged as a huge economic power and a market. It is already India’s second largest trading partner with $60 billion in bi-lateral trade racing towards $100 billion. While British Airways has left Calcutta, the daily flight of China Eastern from Calcutta to Kunming is always full. I hear that Hainan Airlines has applied for another daily flight from Calcutta. Two swallows do not make a summer. But the flights are surely a harbinger of spring. Bengal should consciously adopt the strategy of an early mover to become a preferred investment destination of Chinese and Japanese companies. Both history and geography will contribute to Advantage Bengal.