Few politicians remain completely unchanged by power. Some take longer than others to change. Mamata Banerjee seems to have realized that the time has come for her to give issues of governance the importance they deserve. She always had a reserve of raw energy and a capacity for hard work. But politics, rather than governance, seemed to have been the overriding concern so far. There are several indications that this is changing. The way she pulled up several of her government’s ministers for not performing reflects her changing priorities. West Bengal’s notorious lack of a work culture has long been its worst enemy. The long reign of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had much to do with it. When Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee coined the slogan, “Do it now”, during his second stint as chief minister, he actually had to fight the legacy of his own party. It is another matter that he did not quite succeed in inculcating a new work culture. Ms Banerjee’s move to make the ministers take their work more seriously is, therefore, a welcome one. The chief minister gave an idea of her new priorities when she met the leading lights of trade and industry at a conference in Mumbai soon after the panchayat polls. She apparently knows that she cannot achieve much unless the government as a whole changes its ways.
However, the chief minister will do well to make some changes in her own style of functioning. During the past few months she has been embroiled in controversies that she could have better avoided. Some of the controversies had little to do with issues of governance. But, unfortunately, her own remarks and actions, often totally unwarranted, created them. Ms Banerjee should be more careful than she has been about what she says and does in public. A chief minister needs to be cautious also about the platform he or she uses to air views on public issues. There is yet another important reason why Ms Banerjee should set the example to the ministers in their public conduct. Mr Bhattacharjee and Jyoti Basu before him had to constantly tackle the pressure of their party on the administration. Ms Banerjee is largely free from this challenge. She is the one who really matters in her party and also in her government. So, how much she changes and in what ways will ultimately matter for a real change in Bengal. Good leaders are not afraid of reforming themselves.