The optimist: Exit Mamata Banerjee, the antagonist. Enter Mamata Banerjee, the administrator
The pessimist: Don’t believe what you hear. Once an antagonist, never an administrator.
Count yourself among the optimists or the pessimists. But the usually reliable antennae of bureaucrats are picking up signs of change in Mamata Banerjee’s style of governance since the panchayat results were declared.
Although no one will hazard a guess on the durability of the perceived departure, several officials feel that the favourable mandate in the rural polls has given the chief minister a sense of stability and the impact is visible in official meetings.
“It seems she has realised that the system has delivered and now she wants to build on it,” said a senior police officer who was once close to the chief minister.
In official circles, the chief minister has made it clear her immediate priority is industry. Some aides consider as a turning point the August 1 meeting in Mumbai where Mamata posed with a smiling Mukesh Ambani.
This week, the bureaucrats, cautious and circumspect by nature, picked up more signals at a review meeting when Mamata prodded ministers, in the presence of officials, to perform.
Her directive to senior ministers, such as industries and IT minister Partha Chatterjee and municipal affairs and urban development minister Firhad Hakim, that they have to deliver was not lost on the officials.
“This is a change…. Earlier, she used to pull up officials in public, which was not going down well. It seems she has now realised that she needs the officers to deliver and that’s why the treatment has also changed,” said a senior IAS officer.
According to the officer, in comparison with her predecessors Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Mamata is more clued in to the activities of different departments and how they are performing in terms of money spent and the reach of the benefits.
The awareness about government programmes has helped her in understanding the abilities of officials, some of whom were branded as “CPM-er lok (CPM’s men)” in the early days of the Trinamul regime.
“She may not be comfortable with some officers but she is retaining them as she is aware of their utility,” said an officer.
A case in point is the rehabilitation of Nandini Chakravorty as the secretary in charge of Sunderban affairs after shunting her to the post of the editor of the State Gazetteer.
Similarly, Mamata has brought back into the mainstream Damayanti Sen, who cracked the Park Street rape case despite the chief minister describing the complaint as fabricated. Sen has been made deputy-inspector general, CID, after stints as DIG (training) and DIG (Darjeeling range).
Some officials feel that the rehabilitation of the two officers will send positive signals and dispel apprehensions about administrative recklessness.
“These are, however, sporadic signals and the chief minister will have to be consistent…. Given her mercurial nature, it will take time for us to believe (that she has changed her style),” said an official.
According to him, most officers and ministers still remain guarded during their interactions with Mamata as her aversion to contrary views is well known.
Although the chief minister has softened her opposition to some topics like increasing power tariff, she still balks at touching bus fares or allowing the government a role in land acquisition for industry. The long-standing question of scrapping urban land ceiling has also not been addressed by the government.
“The chief minister has realised that she has to deliver on the industrial front… But attempts to woo investments by holding investor meets have to be backed by policy amendments. Unless the chief minister addresses the land issue, she cannot attract industry in Bengal,” said a senior Trinamul leader.
Both Trinamul and government circles expect the chief minister to start giving concessions to industry as she begins preparations for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. A Facebook post by Mamata this afternoon, underscoring the economic woes and searching aloud for a leader who can tackle the national problems, reflected her immediate priorities.