Development + violence: The Bengal model

Subir Roy | Updated on September 16, 2020 Published on September 16, 2020

All quiet: Unlike Bengal politics   -  REUTERS

West Bengal’s recent history is mired in violent politics, which leaves an inevitable and indelible mark on development

Historically, different models of development have combined both positive and negative elements. With China right now on the ascendant globally, the focus is on its successful pursuit of growth and resultant power at the expense of civil liberties and political freedom. On the other hand, liberal Westminster-type democracy, the oldest trick in the book, has delivered rights at the cost of slower economic growth.

In securing a bit of the best of both worlds South Korea has done quite well. A fairly benevolent dictatorship first brought development and then slowly eased up, resulting in the gradual emergence of democratic freedom. In this play of historical contrasts, West Bengal offers another model — development plus violence.

The development story

First let us look at development. Bengal’s position, at around the middle of the league table of large States, in terms of standard human development indicators, is well known. But, more dramatically, in recent years the State has won three awards for as many schemes from UN agencies. Two of them came last year from the World Summit on the Information Society, which seeks to recognise the successful use of ICT in development. One of them is Sabooj Sathi through which the State government seeks to give bicycles to students in public schools in classes IX-XII. This has had a positive impact on youngsters’ mobility, which, in turn, has positively impacted school attendance.

The other is Utkarsh Bangla, which seeks to impart vocational training to school leavers so as to make them employment ready. This is obviously making an impact on incomes at lower levels, helping aid social mobility.

But, perhaps, the most important scheme that has been widely noticed in the rest of the country (the Centre’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao scheme is designed after it) is Kanyashree. It seeks to ensure through a small yearly grant that girls do not get married too early but continue with their schooling till they are 18. Then, if they have continued with their schooling and remained unmarried they get a grant of ,₹25,000. In 2017, the scheme won the UN Public Services Award for “reaching the poorest and most vulnerable through inclusive service and participation”.

The schemes make up a fairly rounded development model that address key issues like jobs, mobility, environmental sustainability (bicycles) and uplift of women by helping adolescent girls stay out of marriage and early childbirth.

If the Chinese model can be called the Deng model (after Deng Xiaoping) and the Korean model the Park model (after Park Chung-hee), the Bengal Model can be called the Mamata model after Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, who can be credited with the insight behind the three schemes.

But this is not the whole picture. The Chinese Model.2 under Xi Jinping has led to a reversal towards the Maoist type of dictatorship even as the country has continued to grow economically and militarily. The Koreans, on the other hand, have managed to make acquiring economic power and a reasonable level of democratic functioning walk hand-in-hand. West Bengal has, however, moved somewhat like the Chinese (simultaneously in opposite directions) in as much as insightful grassroots development has gone hand-in-hand with an escalation in political violence.

An integral component

Violence has been a part of Bengal’s political life from the pre-Partition times. During the Trinamool Congress rule, violence has become integral to the State’s political life. A lot of the current violence can be traced back to real power being passed onto panchayats along with the ability to direct spending by the TMC after it swept the 2013 gram panchayat elections.

Currently politics and violence work at two levels. One is the political, where the main contest is between Trinamool Congress and BJP. The latter, with most of its cadre and even some leaders made up of defections from the Left and the Trinamool, is no stranger to violence and can give back as well as it gets.

But, perhaps, the most disconcerting aspect is that it is sometimes between different factions of the Trinamool Congress in fights over turf. There is a huge amount of rent-seeking; for example, it is difficult to take possession of a piece of a purchased real estate without the local dadas’ help. Similarly, if you were to build a house, you will compulsorily have to buy materials through the local ‘syndicate’. Thus. development and violence seem to go hand in hand in West Bengal.

The writer is a senior journalist

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Published on September 16, 2020
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