The landed question

January 3rd, 2011

Winters in Kolkata are fascinating. Almost magically, just as ceiling fans become redundant during the nights, the non-resident Bengali intelligentsia, both authentic and imaginary, return to the city for great food, good music and copious amounts of intoxicants.

Last week, a noted city barrister, over dinner and sufficiently greased, recalled his last meeting with the CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury a few winters back. Clasping his wine — and in a manner typical of gentrified storytelling — we were told of Yechury’s plea to him for an assessment of what the Left has got right, and wrong, in West Bengal.

The barrister’s reply, essentially, was that the CPI(M)’s much-vaunted land reforms was possibly the worse policy that the party had implemented. And, of course, Yechury’s subsequent displeasure over the particular thought was why the story was told in the first place.

Admittedly, the merit of the argument is debatable, but the Left has inadvertently created a monster for itself by significantly reducing the size of the land-holdings in the state, thereby making it difficult to acquire large tracts at one go.

It was, ironically, the radical land reforms movement that created the electoral bedrock for the CPI(M) in rural West Bengal, although the question of land, and the rightful acquisition process for industry, has been the incumbent governments’ nemesis in recent years.

But if the Left hasn’t got it right on the land issue, what is the alternative? The state’s principle opposition party, the Trinamool Congress (TMC), which is widely tipped to topple the CPI(M) after over three decades in government, has itself put forward an ambiguous land policy.

Despite the fact that TMC chief Mamata Banerjee has vociferously pitched against the certain provisions in the Land Acquisition and Relief and Rehabilitation (Amendment) Bills, the ministry under her purview — the Railways — is going full steam ahead with land acquisition, even as she had repeatedly said that this will not be done ‘forcefully’.

Resistance, however, is bound to crop up when Banerjee attempts to secure land for industry, if and when she heads West Bengal’s next government next year, as both the masses and the Left will scrutinise every detail of her modus operandi.

Moreover, it will be fascinating to see how Banerjee deals with a demon of her own creation, and how the Bengali intelligentsia reacts to it next winter, when, as usual, the great and good of the clan shall congregate here again. landed question digg:The landed question newsvine:The landed question reddit:The landed question Y!:The landed question