May 15, 2011, 11.36 AM | Source:

Mamata, Jaya to face the challenge of Great Expectations

It’s a great feeling to win big. And Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa must be allowed to savour their moments of high personal triumph. For Mamata, this is the culmination of over 30 years of unremitting toil against an enemy with vastly superior forces.

Mamata, Jaya to face the challenge of Great Expectations
R. Jagannathan

It’s a great feeling to win big. And Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa must be allowed to savour their moments of high personal triumph. For Mamata, this is the culmination of over 30 years of unremitting toil against an enemy with vastly superior forces. Nobody – just nobody – had the guts and gumption to take on the Left in West Bengal. She stood alone between them and total domination.

For Jayalalithaa, this success is just recompense for her loss in 2006, when a UPA-backed DMK wrested power from her. She had paid the price for hitching itself to a losing NDA alliance in 2004.

But heady as their triumphs are, both Mamata and Jaya face huge tests to their leadership in living up to the electorate’s expectations - the former more than the later. Mamata comes to power after decades as a streetfighter.These are not qualities that ensure governance or create growth opportunities for the state, which has been a laggard in recent years. In fact, when the Left came to power in the late 1970s – much to its own surprise – it came with the same strengths and weaknesses – a street-fighting force with little knowledge of governance.

Luckily for the CPI(M), Jyoti Basu was upto the challenge in terms of providing an acceptable face of governance, but his street-fighters – especially the union wing – managed to frighten the daylights out of industry, which started shifting base outside the state. The Left Front’s only success was in Operation Barga, which ensured a fair deal for Bengal’s sharecroppers. This enraged the landlords, but theirs was a lost cause anyway.

Mamata, with no track record of governance, and with a recent history of the Maoists backing her, will have a tough task trying to rein in the wilder elements in her support base. Basu at least had a disciplined party backing him. Mamata has won largely on the basis of her direct appeal to the people. It is not clear that the party is anything without her.

This means the people she picks as her key ministers and advisors will have to be good administrators and implementers. If, as is widely believed, former Ficci Secretary-General Amit Mitra will be her Finance Minister, he will bring a pro-growth voice to the government. Mamata will have to resort to populism, and it will be the Finance Minister’s job to find the resources for the same. Industry will need wooing back, especially since it was Mamata Banerjee who was instrumental in driving the Tata Nano out.

The biggest problem for Mamata will be the extraordinary expectations she has raised. Here, history is against her. Indira Gandhi won a thumping victory in 1971, but by 1974 she was in trouble over corruption, with Jayaprakash Narayan leading a movement against her. The Janata Party dethroned her in 1977, but it soon came to grief when its leaders showed a chronic inability to manage their own ambitions. They cut each other down. A historic win in 1977 ended with a rout in 1980. Rajiv Gandhi came to power with a steamroller majority (over 400 seats) after Indira’s assassination in 1984. But by 1987, with Bofors dogging him, his reformist zeal ended. He lost his halo and the elections in 1989.

The NDA government, fresh from a victory in Kargil, won a clear mandate in 1999. It performed quite well till Gujarat sullied its image. Ironically, it has kept winning in Gujarat, but it lost the national elections in 2004 when its claim of “India Shining” sounded premature to the poor. For them India was not Shining, and the Congress intelligently tapped into their frustrations and aspirations to defeat the NDA.

In 2009, the Congress-led UPA won a better mandate, but in less than two years, its image has been sullied by scams and scandals. Sonia has been unable to manage her rapacious coalition partners (the DMK in particular), and the Prime Minister has looked downright incompetent when it comes to facing down recalcitrant ministers like A Raja or even a Suresh Kalmadi. The loot happened right under his nose.

In short, Mamata’s real test will be how she handles governance and development issues. She has to meet the sky-high expectations of her electorate. Her only asset is her personal honesty and clean record. Working against her will be her lack of governance experience. A wounded Left may initially leave her alone, but no one should underestimate the Left’s ability to remobilise. Unions in Bengal have the ability to cripple any government, and the Left can easily mobilise the crowds to destabilise her. Mamata, clearly, will have a fight on her hands after the initial months of euphoria. Hers is the tougher challenge compared to Jayalalithaa’s.

But even for Jaya, it will not be roses all the way. She has been in power before, and governance should not be an issue. But she has to get her priorities right: it cannot all be vendetta against Karunanidhi and his family. This is what bogged her down the last time.

In the run up to the elections, Jaya’s AIADMK had made huge promises to curry favour with the electorate. Among them: Free mixer-grinders and fans for all women, 20 kg of free rice for families living below the poverty line (BPL), free laptops for all Class XI and XII students, free houses of 300 sq ft to three lakh BPL families, four sheep for each BPL family, partial loan waivers for women’s self-help groups, marriage assistance for poor women (Rs 25,000 plus 4gm gold)…. The list goes on and on.

Paying for all this largesse is going to take a lot of resources – which the state clearly does not have at this moment.

Both Jaya and Mamata are up against the winner’s curse – the challenge of meeting the public’s great expectations.



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