By Nitya Chakraborty
NEW DELHI: It was a win win situation for the West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee all the way in the Planning Commission on April 10 when she had discussions with the Commission Deputy Chairman Dr. Montek Singh Ahluwalia for the finalization of the annual plan for West Bengal for the financial year 2012-13.This was the second financial year during her tenure in Writers Building but the senior officials in the Planning Commission were surprised at the way Mamata pleaded her case for more funds for the state and virtually extracted from the Commission more than what was expected.
In fact, the press meet after the finalization of the state plan figure at Rs. 25,910 crore indicating a 16 per cent hike over the plan outlay for 2011-12 was in the form of a solo performance of Mamata when she explained each and every intricate point of the pressing needs of West Bengal and impressed Montek on her grasp of the challenges in removing poverty in the state. She was strong with her homework as also her vision and that played the trick apart from the political compulsions of the Manmohan Singh Government to keep her in good humour.
Mamata knew of the clout that the Deputy Chairman had with the Prime Minister and taking that into account, she used her political acumen in telling publicly before the press that since Montek is a good friend of the Prime Minister and his adviser, he should press for the imposition of three year moratorium on repaying the debt by the West Bengal Government. The interest alone is estimated at Rs. 20,000 a year and Mamata’s point was that after paying that, she can do very little for the developmental programmes.
That was why the Chief Minister gave her stress on various funds available for different sectors including for backward areas and poverty alleviation programmes. In her presentation to the Planning Commission, Mamata gave a big stress on additional efforts made by her in eradicating poverty in the state and her projections impressed the Commission members as she mentioned of her programme of bringing down the poverty level in the state from the present 43 per cent to 25 per cent by the end of the present plan period. The focus was also on generation of jobs and she mentioned of creating facilities for the creation of ten lakh jobs in the state during the 12th plan period.
Another area which got appreciation from the Planning Commission was her work in the Naxalite affected districts in Jangalmahal and the hilly areas of the state which had been neglected for long years. The Commission assessed the review reports of progress made in the five Naxalite affected districts and also got the laudatory reports from the rural development department on the progress of work in the backward districts of the state for uplifting the economy. The Backward Region Grant Fund was hiked and the state’s plans for education, health and roads construction also got approval from the Commission.
Mamata’s claim that the GDP growth in the state in 2011-12 was 11.76 per cent was very much appreciated by the Commission as it was much higher than the national GDP growth of the country. Mamata was ebullient, confident and she in fact steamrolled the discussions in the Planning Commission giving other members little scope for airing differing views. The very fact that the Deputy Chairman himself was agreeing to most of the points of the West Bengal Chief Minister made the matters easier for Mamata and she used her full political clout at the centre to push through whatever she wanted. This was real victory for Bengal this time in terms of planning and development of the state.
Mamata was quite aware of her political strength and she aptly made use of it in her battle with the Planning Commission on plan funds for the year 2012-13.Presidential elections in July this year have posed a major challenge for the Congress for pushing the Party candidate with the support of allies and in that context, keeping the Trinamool Congress in good humour is of big importance to the UPA-2. TMC has big voting strength in the Presidential elections and right now, the position of the Congress is so precarious after the recent state assembly elections that the Congress has to do everything to keep its allies on the right side. No finalization of the Presidential candidate is possible without having consultations with the Trinamool Chief. Therefore, despite all the brickbats being received by the grand old Party from the TMC, the central Congress leadership is playing it cool and restraining the state Congress leaders from opting for confrontation with the Mamata Government.
Apart, there is another factor. The budget session of Parliament is beginning after recess on April 24 and the finance ministry wants to push through some important financial sector reform bills in this session. For that TMC support is required and on Insurance bill, the finance minister will like TMC to be supporting and not opposing. So far, TMC is opposed to any further hike in foreign direct investment cap in the insurance companies to 49 per cent from the present 26 per cent. The finance minister will try to persuade the TMC chief to agree to the provision of FDI hike or at least ensure the absence of the TMC members from the house and not voting against if the Bill comes for voting.
So there is a big stake and the TMC with its 19 members in Lok Sabha has emerged as the rallying point of forces within the UPA-2 as also outside. This is a threat to both the Congress and the BJP. Mamata has become unpredictable to the UPA-2 Government and her blow hot blow cold stance is being watched by the Manmohan Singh Government with some anxiety and certainly Mamata is skillfully taking advantage of this central discomfiture to the advantage of West Bengal. (IPA Service)