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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 26.04.13

The idea of the State as ma-baap dies hard in India. Paternalism, a hangover from the feudal age, coexists with modern forms of government in India. Nothing else explains the expectation that when a fraudulent business enterprise owned and run by a private individual defaults and collapses, the State should step in to provide relief to those who have lost their money. The government of Mamata Banerjee, even though it is poised on the brink of bankruptcy, has risen to meet these expectations. The chief minister announced that her government is creating a relief fund of Rs 500 crore for the really poor who have been badly hit by the collapse of the Saradha Group. Thus the government of West Bengal, apart from its innumerable other manifestations, has also acquired the role of a charitable organization. It is difficult to comprehend why tax-payers (even when they are users of tobacco) should subsidize a group of people who have lost their money because of their greed. Following this logic, the State — in this case, the government of West Bengal — should come to the aid of any group of people who have been adversely affected by the decline and fall of a business venture.

The one rather far-fetched explanation of this decision of Ms Banerjee is that she or her government is suffering from an unusual bout of guilty conscience. It is alleged that some members of the Trinamul Congress were close to the mastermind of this particular venture to cheat people. This proximity may have provided confidence to people who opted to put their savings in this venture. But this cannot be an argument. There has to be a distinction, logical and practical, between sections of the ruling party and the ruling government. Even if some members of the TMC tarred their own reputation by allegedly associating themselves with a disreputable firm, it cannot be the government’s responsibility to compensate for this. Ms Banerjee can afford to make a show of charity from her party funds, but not from the exchequer of her government. What is worse is that she is proposing to raise this money by promoting an addiction that is known to be injurious to health. Thus the health of one group of people is being jeopardized as the price for the greed of another group of people. This is the bizarre state of affairs in West Bengal which is reminiscent of the topsy-turvy world that Alice saw when she fell down a hole.