In my brief time in the government I carried more than one albatross around my neck. The worst was honorary policy advisers. Wherever I went, people would buttonhole me, tell me what stupid mistakes we were making, and what we should be doing instead. Some of them had most elaborate plans, and just had to unbosom themselves, even if it took them two hours. When you are in the government, and when everyone from the trade unions to small industrywallahs is baying for your blood, you cannot afford to be rude to anyone. So I used to hang a sickly smile on my face, stare steadily at my tormentor, and wait for him to finish. And as soon as he finished I would look around for someone I could escape to — to find that he had an even longer plan to relate.
One man in particular collared me too often. He wanted me to build a new capital for India, I think somewhere in Madhya Pradesh. He impressed upon me the advantages: it would take years to build, and in the meanwhile create demand for so much labour, steel and cement, railway lines and roads, electricity and water. I kept telling him that we just could not afford such extravagance in those years of crisis, the early Nineties; but that only redoubled his vigour.
Now, a decade later, his vigour has communicated itself to me, and I am raring to pass on his dream. Not to the ambitious, grandiloquent, megalomaniac rulers in Delhi, but to my erstwhile tormentors, the communist rulers of Calcutta. I would like to tell them about the many advantages of building a new capital for West Bengal.
The conventional reason — that it would give a big boost to West Bengal’s anaemic economy — would be obvious to everyone. The boost would be even greater than from the building of a new national capital to replace Delhi. For the Communist Party of India (Marxist) would ensure — insist — that the heroic workers who are engaged in building New Calcutta must be unionized. So they would work as little as possible. If New New Delhi would take 10 years to build, New Calcutta would take a hundred. And just think of the cost overruns! Higher cost means more jobs. West Bengal would run out of unemployed, and would have to import labour from Bangladesh. What better way of promoting pan-Bengali integration!
It may be objected that West Bengal cannot afford the expenditure; what would happen to the state’s budgetary deficit' But that should be a communist’s least worry. When we were trying to reduce the Centre’s fiscal deficit in the early Nineties, some of our most tiresome opponents were the communists. They called us lackeys of the Washington sisters, and accused us of being anti-worker and anti-union. Now they have the chance of demonstrating their faith by running a huge deficit.
If they see a problem in finding the money, I would suggest that Asim Dasgupta should buttonhole Jaswant Singh. Atal Bihari Vajpayee has floated the idea of a common currency for SAARC. If it materializes, issue of currency will no longer be under the control of Reserve Bank of India. Currency issue results in a pure profit for the government; other SAARC governments are not going to let us get away with it. They will want to share in the currency issue. Asim should ask Jaswant that West Bengal should get a share of it. If Jaswant says no, Asim should take a bus to Dacca, and offer to secede to Bangladesh if it gave half of its share of the currency issue to West Bengal.
The biggest advantage of a new capital would be that the processionists of Calcutta would have nowhere to march to. For as I understand it, the marches are organized to protest against some action or inaction of the government. If the government itself vanishes from Calcutta, whom will the processionists process against'
That might strike normal people as a very good reason, but it may give the CPI(M) leadership a guilty conscience: is it not wrong to run away from the trade unionists and other noisy supporters of the party' For which I have two ideas.
First, the capital should be built in the hills north of Siliguri. The secretariat should be located at the highest point. From it a processional avenue should be built with a very high gradient. The processionists will then have struggle up the hill; by the time they are halfway up they will be out of breath and no longer inclined to shout. By the time they reach the seat of power, they will be collapsing; they can then been given tea — produce of West Bengal — and sent back to Calcutta.
Alternatively, the secretariat should be built on one of the islands in the Hooghly estuary. It can then be approached only in boats. A large number of boats should be specially kept for the processionists. They should have plugged hatches or holes underneath. A quarter of the way the holes should be opened, and water should start swirling around the knees of the processionists. They should be given the choice — be taken back to the riverbank, or drown in the cause of revolution. Most of them will choose revolution, it may be hoped.
An estuarine site would have another advantage. As global warming raises the sea level, it will be gradually submerged; in a hundred years’ time it will have passed into history. Then CPI(M) can build another capital; another hundred years of invest boom, cost overruns and state profligacy.
New Calcutta will be built on a more modest scale than Old Cal, and should be. It should certainly not have housing for the million-odd WB government employees. The secretariat should be a modern, computerized one which will require less than 1 per cent of the present manpower. The rest should be told that they can stay in Calcutta pending relocation and continue to shuffle files. There are more than enough old files for them to shuffle. But to keep them up-to-date, they should be issued one new file every year. A small price to pay for getting them out of the hair of the government.
On top of the Reichstag in Berlin, Sir Norman Foster has constructed a glass dome, from which one gets a panoramic view of the city. One can go up a causeway inside the dome. Alongside are photographs of the old Reichstag, and its burning by the Nazis. It would not be a good idea to build a dome on top of the new assembly building in New Calcutta. Instead, a glass gallery should be built from which the public, the electorate, the citizens can watch the assembly in the throes of class struggle. The MLAs should organize special shows on holidays, involving yodelling, Taekwondo, Kalleripayet, and other exotic forms of combat.
The Writers’ Buildings should be converted into a museum of — what else' — the past glories of Bengal. What glories' I am afraid that I am a bit out of depth there; but by the time the capital is shifted I will think of something.