Even before the show opened in Haldia, apologies had been offered: that it would not be in the league of Vibrant Gujarat. That suggests that while Bengal continues to lead, the number of industrialists following in its wake is not going to impress. An explanation has been offered: that West Bengal suffers from 34 years of communist rule, which a year and a half of uncommunist rule has not helped enough to forget. The point is valid; Narendra Modi has a record of eleven years’ rule. But that record is not uniformly glorious; he was also in power during one of India’s worst Hindu-Muslim riots, and has been accused of having taken sides. Therein lies a heartening lesson: that it is possible to carry the taint of a riot organizer and become a hero — not overnight, but in a decade. There is no doubt that he is conscious of the blot on his character; it must have taken some bitter swallowing of pride when he apologized for any mistakes he may have made. Although West Bengal has much more endemic political violence than Gujarat, the chief minister can console herself that she has no such shameful record to apologize for yet.
However, frequent minor missteps can be as limiting as one giant one. They boil down to the gentle art of making enemies. Mamata Banerjee started with a great advantage: that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had left the state with an impossible public debt; she did not even have to try to repay it. The finance minister at the Centre could not have been more sympathetic. It required an amazing love of indignation to throw away this huge starting advantage over the waters of a minor river on which the prime minister wanted to reach a reasonable compromise with Bangladesh. Nor was it sensible to oppose foreign direct investment in retail. Bengal is blessed with abundant water and fertile land; it could be a champion exporter of agricultural produce. However good they may be, its local entrepreneurs have not been able to make a great business of it; there was no harm, and could have been some gain, in letting foreigners try their hand at it. And even if the chief minister could not stand the sight of foreign retailers, she had the freedom to keep them at arm’s length without making such a fuss about it. She contributed to the general impression that she values fuss and does not count its cost.
Admittedly, she is not all ire. More recently, she has been trying to court industrialists. She even travelled to Delhi and Mumbai to do so. But her view of what industrialists want is constrained. She thinks that all they need is lots of land in thousand-acre plots. Actually, they want even more good-natured, non-violent, conscientious workers. The chief minister should set her people an example.