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There goes the money train
Will West Bengal be reduced to being a fringe state once again? There is a good chance the goodies from Centre will dry up.
Mamata Banerjee's brinkmanship and break from UPA 2 is most likely to cost Bengal very dear. Not only has any hope for a bailout package for the state that's neck deep in debt evaporated, a peeved New Delhi may turn off the tap on many projects that Mamata had initiated for Bengal both as railway minister and then as chief minister. And with Mamata resorting to high-voltage Centre-bashing and anti-Congressism, no central ministry is likely to look favourably upon any plea from Bengal for funds. Not that this matters to Mamata though - she'll retain her support base by raising the bogey of 'stepmotherly treatment' from the Centre to explain away the lack of development in the state, a tried and tested bogey that has found so many takers since the days of Jyoti Basu. The writing on the wall is that while Mamata's political fortunes may flourish, Bengal will suffer.
"Bengal has always been a fringe state. This (Trinamool being part of UPA 2) was a wonderful opportunity to take it centre-stage, but it has been frittered away for petty political gains. It's unfortunate that politicians don't have the interests of the state at heart, " says Runa Sarkar, an economics teacher at IIM-Calcutta. "Bengal voted for change and the vehicle for that change is funds. The Trinamool could have leveraged its position to get a lot of central funds for projects and schemes and Bengal could have benefitted from the psychological advantage of the President of the country being from this state. But all that has been lost. "
There is, say observers, a real danger of Bengal being further marginalised. "Unfortunately, for Bengal's politicians, votes are more immediate and important than long-term economic gains, " says communications expert Chandradeep Mitra.
Even economist Abhirup Sarkar, who's close to the present ruling dispensation in the state, agrees: "Yes, Bengal will suffer a big blow in terms of funds for projects and schemes. Even genuine demands from the state for funding for projects may be overlooked by New Delhi, which will also make things difficult for the state. " For instance, he says, New Delhi had sanctioned Rs 8, 500 crore as grant for the backward areas of Bengal. "But it'll be impossible for the state to utilise the entire first tranche of funds by the end of this financial year. An unsympathetic New Delhi may then slash the next instalment of funds and raise many uncomfortable queries. "
Senior Trinamool leaders agree. "It was a mistake to withdraw from UPA 2 and an even bigger mistake is being committed by this high-decibel and harsh criticism of the Congress. We should have worked quietly like other parties and extracted our pound of flesh from the Centre instead of being so confrontationist right from the beginning, " says a senior minister who did not want to be named for obvious reasons.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
Bengal's wish for a 10-year debt restructuring plan on its Rs 2. 08 lakh crore borrowings Future of 16 proposed railway factories including a Metro coach factory at the abandoned Tata Motors site at Singur Highway projects held up due to land acquisition Public sector power projects Future private investments in a state increasingly seen as anti-industry New railway, urban development, rural development, tourism, health and I&B projects that Trinamool's ministers holding these portfolios at the Centre could have got for Bengal.
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