Saturday, February 26, 2011

Railway Budget: 'Bengal bias' plays to Mamata's poll script

NEW DELHI: Delivering perhaps the longest-ever budget speech by a rail minister, Mamata Banerjee was speaking on the Kolkata Rail Vikas Corporation when the Bihar contingent erupted. 

When Banerjee claimed that the corporation "will kickstart Kolkata's return to its glory", MPs belonging to JD(U) and BJP from Bihar protested against the discrimination against their state. "Why don't you shout when I announce things for Hyderabad and Gujarat or Kerala. Why is it that you scream only when I mention Bengal," Banerjee retorted. 
The aggression failed to cut ice with the complainants, leading to disruptions and a short suspension of proceedings. The hold-up would not have displeased Banerjee one bit. 

In fact, it played to the script that she has in mind for the coming West Bengal elections: paint herself as the saviour of Bengal, someone who has unabashedly used her perch in Rail Bhawan to shower projects on the home state. 

The charges of partiality towards her home state only enhances her persona as the benefactor of Bengal. 

Parochialism, just like nepotism, has never been considered to be a vice in India. But when grafted to a larger cause; for instance, rescuing West Bengal from the morass of backwardness and unemployment, it becomes glamorous and, politically speaking, profitable. 

Banerjee, who used her maiden rail budget to add steel to her campaign to dislodge the Marxists, knows it very well. Which was why moments after protesting that she had wrongly been charged with parochialism, she responded to the same charge with a defiant "I will do it" declaration. That she has no qualms in demonstrating her bias for West Bengal is brought out by her plans for exhibition trains. 

Banerjee knows that she can get away with the brazenness not just because her support is crucial for UPA's survival but also because no one with a stake in Bengal politics can afford to come in her way. That she has reckoned right was evident when CPM's criticism skirted the bias for Bengal. Congress has also to play along for the same reason, although Banerjee kept in mind the party's interests in the poll-bound states of Kerala, Assam and Tamil Nadu, as well as the besieged stronghold of Andhra Pradesh. BJP did protest against what it called the Bengal-centric budget, but that is only because it has bigger stakes elsewhere. 

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