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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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REALITY CHECK

Mamata Banerjee apparently can no longer believe in her own propaganda. To all complaints about the anti-industry policies of her government, she had so far responded by trying to project a make-believe world. All was fine, she had claimed, with industrialization and everything else in West Bengal. It is not yet known what exactly broke the spell and made her see things differently. But the chief minister has suddenly realized — and even admitted — that nothing much is really happening in the state to inspire hopes about industrial and other fronts. She has reportedly taken ministers and officials to task for not doing enough. Even the persistent claim by the commerce and industries minister, Partha Chatterjee, about new investments in the state does not seem to convince Ms Banerjee any more. While new industries remain a far cry in the current atmosphere in Bengal, other sectors suffer just as badly. As a report in this newspaper highlights, roads in six districts of north Bengal are in a dangerous condition. They cannot be widened or repaired because the government will not help the National Highways Authority of India acquire land necessary for the task. Of the 1,760 hectares of land the NHAI requires for widening national highways across the state, only 34 hectares have been handed over to it so far. The remedy, according to the chief minister, is to shift officials from one department to another. The commerce and industries department, for example, has had its secretary changed three times over the past one-and-a-half years.

However, Ms Banerjee’s sudden realization of the state of affairs in Bengal or her remedy brings no great expectations of things getting any better. This is because she does not yet realize that the big problem lies in her own style of functioning and in her government’s policies on land and industrialization. The chief minister revels in spending time on festivities and with celebrities of all kinds. Matters relating to industries or other development issues do not seem to bother her much. Her position on the acquisition of land for industry or on foreign direct investment is the stuff of populist politics. In fact, she has increasingly given the impression that all she cares about is this brand of politics. What is more worrying is that she heads a government and a party in which she alone matters. There are no signs yet that Ms Banerjee is mending her ways.