Successive central governments treated West Bengal unfairly and victimised the state, was the argument of one side, while the other held that Bengal had suffered because of poor governance by successive state governments.
The occasion was a debate with the motion “Bengal is a Victim of Failed Federalism”, organised by Calcutta Debating Circle in association with The Telegraph and held at Calcutta Club on Saturday.
Trinamul’s Lok Sabha MP Kalyan Banerjee was the first person to speak for the motion. He cited statistics to claim Bengal had been denied its fare share of revenues.
The Centre violated the federal structure by interfering in matters of “law and order”. “Earlier, the state police’s help was taken for search and seizures by central agencies, but they do not follow it now,” he said.
Later, during the rebuttal round, Banerjee said West Bengal had suffered in the hands of the Narendra Modi and Manmohan Singh-led governments.
Speaking after Banerjee, PKD Nambiar, political analyst and entrepreneur, said leaders in West Bengal should ask themselves why there had been a flight of capital from the state to other parts of the country. “The political leadership of last 60 years had destroyed the state,” said Nambiar, who spoke against the motion.
Trinamul’s Rajya Sabha MP and former bureaucrat Jawhar Sircar argued while speaking for the motion that West Bengal had suffered at the hands of the Centre for years.
“After Partition, 40 per cent of the refugee population came to Bengal, but we received only 10 per cent of the assistance from the Centre,” he said. “Our 100 days’ work is now held up as the Centre is not releasing funds.”
Speaking against the motion, former BJP MP Swapan Dasgupta asked his opponents: “Has there been a single amendment of laws that favours or discriminates against West Bengal?” Dasgupta said if all states could do with the same laws, why was Bengal always complaining against the Centre?
Shama Mohamed, spokesperson for the Congress, countered Dasgupta, saying many states were complaining, like West Bengal. “Bengal is begging the Centre for its money, but the Centre says you borrow from the market. Then Bengal tells the Centre, ‘why don’t you borrow?’,” she said.
She also questioned why tax breaks that were allowed for donations to the PM Cares Fund during Covid was not extended to the Chief Minister’s Fund in all states. “Federalism has been crushed after 2014. The governor is being used as a weapon to harass the states,” she said.
Neurosurgeon Sandip Chatterjee, who spoke for the motion, said common Bengalis suffered when federalism failed. “When you have two elephants in combat, you and I, the common Bengali, suffer,” he said.
BJP MLA Agnimitra Paul pointed out that the BSF was not being given land by the Bengal government to set up its offices in the state. “Crores of money are sent by the Union government but they do not reach the poor,” she said, speaking against the motion.
Former journalist and BJP spokesperson Shazia Ilmi, who spoke against the motion, said “Bengal was victim of failed governance”.
The motion was defeated 71-47, said cardiac surgeon Kunal Sarkar, the chairperson, after a quick counting of the raised hands in the audience.