Governance begins where partisan politics ends. West Bengalís politicians, though, do not quite believe in this. The result is a political culture in which parties of the government and of the Opposition rarely consult each other. It is, therefore, a welcome change that Mamata Banerjee wants to take her Marxist opponents on board in trying to find a way out of the stateís financial crisis. She wants an all-party team to plead with the Centre for a special financial assistance package for Bengal. If she sticks to the plan and if it helps her case, the state will ultimately benefit. After all, all parties should have a stake in seeing an early end to Bengalís financial worries. The Marxists should go the extra mile in order to help the chief minister on the issue. But it may be premature to hope that Bengalís politicians have finally seen the light at the end of the tunnel. Sceptics could argue that Ms Banerjee is only acting under compulsion. Ministers in her government call upon partymen to boycott rivals even at social functions. She herself rarely discusses major issues of governance with leaders of the Opposition parties. The biggest issues of development ó involving land and industrialization ó are never seriously debated between the government and the Opposition. The Marxists themselves set the example of ignoring or brazenly silencing their opponents. Unfortunately for Bengal, Ms Banerjee continues the unhealthy practice.
Such intolerance of the Opposition is part of a political culture that the Congress has long nurtured. The party has always seen its right to rule as indisputable and hence dismissed other views as dispensable. Worse, it often does not think it necessary to find out if there are other views. The way the Congress chose its nominee for the presidential poll is a typical example of its approaches to issues of politics and governance. The party made no attempt to reach out to the Bharatiya Janata Party to try and evolve a consensus on the next president. Even the Congressís allies in the United Progressive Alliance were approached for their support only after the Congress candidate had been chosen. The BJP, on the other hand, actually accepted a choice that was not its own. Ms Banerjee grew up in the political culture that the Congress represents. But her new role demands that she quickly learn how to take critics on board.