Saturday, April 2, 2016

West Bengal Assembly Elections: Facts, Factors and Issues

A Ready Reckoner For a Congress Supporter for West Bengal Elections  

TMC Betrayal

·       In 2011 Congress had entered into an electoral understanding with TMC to usher in a positive transformation of the state.

·       The basis for such an understanding was laid when TMC expressed its desire to join the UPA on the eve of the elections to Lok Sabha in 2009. Congress made supreme sacrifice and allowed a big chunk of seats to be contested by TMC, helping TMC to increase its Lok Sabha representation from 1 to 19. 7 TMC Ministers were accommodated in the UPA II government. However, from the very beginning, TMC instead of strengthening the central government, started to undermine it.

·       Despite the increasingly negative role of TMC, Congress leadership favoured the party by conceding an overwhelming number of seats to TMC in the Assembly elections in West Bengal in 2011.

·       A TMC led government was formed with a minor representation of Congress. Taking advantage of its majority in the Assembly, TMC sought to undermine Congress, pursued a policy of neglect and humiliation of the Congress ministers, engineered defection from Congress ranks and forcibly occupied Congress offices throughout the state.

·       Simultaneously, the personalized and whimsical style of functioning of the Chief Minister of the state and general lawlessness encouraged by TMC and pursuit of anti people policies in many different spheres generated our strong reservations and disapproval.

·       Instead of addressing our legitimate concerns, we were asked to leave the government. In the meanwhile, TMC was resorting to blackmail the central government and to engineer a fall of the government. It withdrew its support from the UPA II government in September 2012.

·       Bolstered by its majority in the government in West Bengal and encouraged by political difficulties of Congress led UPA II government at that point of time, TMC revealed its opportunism.

·       All its various attempts to regain credibility and political space at the national level since then have repeatedly failed.

·       Congress decided to pull out its ministers from the TMC government because of lack of co-ordination and continuous humiliation. The government had betrayed the trust of the people. Poribortan which had raised hope of a positive transformation in Bengal turned out to be a curse.

Manifold Failures of TMC Government

·       The TMC ruled government of the state has failed the people of the state in all spheres of social and economic development and has become a source of endless embarrassment with its tall and bizarre claims of success and development.

·       Democracy and Constitutional order is in peril in the state. Priorities of the government have been wrong all along.

·       The focus on fairs, festivals, recreation and financial support to the clubs is in marked contrast to complete neglect of the government employees’ dues in the form of dearness allowances.

·       Para teachers are forced into a precarious situation and part Time teachers of the colleges have not received adequate compensation for their services.

·       A glaring example of government doublespeak was noticed when peacefully agitating teachers of Madrasaas were forced to end their hunger strike over non-payment of their salaries.

·       Maintenance of public order has become a casualty of widespread violence with illicit arms and crude bombs being freely manufactured, smuggled and used against political opponents.

·       Political opponents have been targeted and political rivalry within the ruling party has also led to killings on a large scale. Police personnel have also been killed by the hooligans under the protection of TMC. 

·       Police administration and law and order machinery in the state has witnessed a rapid deterioration in terms of effectiveness, efficiency and transparency.  Chief Minister herself has sided with ruffians and illegally forced the police to secure their release from a police station.

·       False cases have been filed by police and the opponents of TMC have been hounded all across the state. Police functionaries responding to their call of duty have been reprimanded, sidelined and transferred. In many instances, police has been used to coerce the political opponents to surrender and transfer their loyalty to the ruling party. 

·       The state has become a safe haven for the manufacturing of illicit arms and crude bombs, being freely used against opposition and to settle intra- party squabbles of TMC.

·       Administration has turned a blind eye to open public display of weapons by the ruling party members as happened in Kandi and refused to act against illegal activities involving arms whether in Burdwan, Birbhum, Malda or Murshidabad district.

·       The government has neglected national security by turning a blind eye to the nefarious activities of anti-national forces which have enjoyed a free run. In the process, our security has been compromised. Khagragarh bomb blast showed how Bengal is becoming a safe haven for extremists.

·       Government has been in denial over every major threat to peace and tranquility in the state. It tried its level best to hide its complacency and the linkages that TMC cadres have developed with anti-national forces. The quality of its cooperation with the central agencies has also been quite poor. 

·       TMC government has attempted to coerce the bureaucracy and the police to serve the organizational interests of TMC. As a result, loyalty to TMC and sycophancy has been encouraged. Effectiveness and efficiency of government services have declined.

·       The state could not hold recruitment tests for thousands of teaching jobs past three years for one reason or the other, under one pretext or the other.

·       Question papers have been leaked out and examination system manipulated to serve the interests of TMC cadres. The 2011 TET exam result was manipulated and has achieved the notorious distinction of being the biggest recruitment scam of the country.  The next lot of the TET exam was postponed twice and many months have passed but lakhs of youths who have taken the examination are still in the dark about the result. The government has maintained a studied silence on the issue.

·       Time and again, judiciary has cautioned the government and passed strictures against misuse of power. However, the state government has either challenged the Orders and Judgments or tried to delay implementation of Court Orders. In quite a few instances, the government has been audacious to defy the Orders as well. Members of Judiciary have also been sought to be coerced and influenced by the ruling party. This is a most serious threat to democracy and Rule of Law.

·       The TMC government has completely neglected the agricultural sector and the interest of the farmers.

·       Singur fiasco represents the monumental failure of the government. Neither the interests of farmers could be protected nor could any industry be set up in Singur in the last five years. Hundreds of farmers in the state have committed suicide, driven by starvation and debt, after failing to receive minimum support price for their products from the government. 

·       The government delayed the implementation of the historic Right to Food Security Act passed by UPA II government in 2013 by three years. This has deprived millions of people of the state from availing the benefit of food security for three years.

·       The jute mill owners have colluded with the government and often resorted to closure, rendering thousands of workers unemployed. The plight of the tea garden workers have been neglected by the state government to such an extent that hundreds of workers have died of starvation.

·       Government has made tall claims regarding investment flow into the state. Facts speak otherwise. No new industry has been set up in past about 5 years.

·       Many factories have closed down. Many business houses have migrated to other states.

·       A strong negative perception of the state has become endemic and business and industry have become extremely reluctant to invest in Bengal. The unreasonable and adamant policy of the government on the land issue has been a big dampener.

·       The discretionary policy regarding the upper land ceiling is yet another stumbling block to the economic prospects of Bengal.  Again, general lawlessness and ‘syndicate raj’ perpetuated by TMC has become a biggest blot on the state.

·       Employment generation, the single biggest challenge for any government, has rather become a casualty of the government’s negative approach and attitude to business and industry.

·       Anarchical situation prevails in educational institutions where TMC students’ unions and their activities have induced lawlessness, manipulation of admission processes, attack on teachers and control of the unions by forceful means.

·       TMC leadership has openly encouraged and supported anarchy in the colleges and universities as a means to control the unions. Police has been used to act in a blatantly partisan ways to favour the TMCP. Student organizations affiliated to opposition political parties are not allowed to file nomination papers for student union elections and are often forced to withdraw their paper. 

·       Many a college principals have resigned as a result of excessive interference from the ruling party in regard to admission processes. Government has blatantly interfered with the autonomy of Universities and used police to suppress dissenting voices in the campus. College student Krishnapada Jana, a member of Chattra Parishad was beaten to death by TMCP members inside the college premises in Sabang in broad day light and yet the killers are roaming free. Instead of taking stern action against named and known TMCP members, the police administration has been dictated by the ruling party to frame innocent members of Chattra Parishad. This type of blatant partisanship of police and the government has no parallel in the country.

·       Crimes against women have seen an alarming rise.  Administration has attempted to deny or downplay the number and nature of crimes against women. Most often the ruling party has sided with the perpetrators of violence against women instead of extending support and justice to the victims.

·       Chief accused of the infamous Park Street gang rape is still absconding, apparently with the support of the ruling party. Insensitivity of the administration and of the Chief Minister was in full public view in the Kamduni gang rape case as well.

·       Victims of crimes against women have been denied justice and their family members and friends siding with them have been ridiculed and intimidated. In many instances, victims and their families have been coerced into silence and discouraged from filing cases. 

·       Elections subsequent to 2011, ---whether the 2013 Panchayat elections, 2014 Lok Sabha elections, 2015 elections to municipalities, Kolkata and Bidhan Nagar corporations have been reduced to a farce under the active patronage of the  government. State Election Commission was not allowed to discharge its responsibilities as per law in 2013 Panchayat election.

·       Force and intimidation paved the way for the election of thousands of TMC nominees without any contest. Wherever the opposition could file nomination and contest the election, verdict of the people was sought to be undermined by force and coercion.

·       Defection of elected members of opposition parties to TMC and the manner in which defections have been forced has dealt a severe blow to democratic norms, principles and law.  TMC has even resorted to kidnapping of elected representatives to force its way into power in the local bodies.

·       Democratically elected MLAs of opposition political parties have been coerced and lured to join the ruling party. Intimidation, false police cases and lure of money have been used to gain control of Panchayats, municipalities and corporations.

·       Court Orders and Judgments have been repeatedly violated to protect the interest of ruling party members.

·       The State Election Commission was not allowed to discharge its responsibilities in a lawful manner during 2013 Panchayat elections. Hoodlums were employed to loot booths during the Bidhan Nagar Corporation elections and 22 journalists who covered the rigging were assaulted.

·       TMC government has been a government of announcements and pronouncements. Government has been laudatory of its ‘achievements’ whereas the reality is just the opposite. Its tall claim of generating 68 lakh employment is a cruel joke with the millions of unemployed youths. Its claims in the health sector have been dismissed comprehensively by facts and statistical data.

·       It is unfortunate that the government has completely neglected the environmental issues. It refuses to heed the saner voices calling for moderation and responsiveness towards environmental concerns. TMC henchmen involved in illegal coal and sand mining, are protected by the government and this is a causing a big threat to environment protection measures and laws. 

·       Socio-economic and educational development of the religious minorities of the state has been completely neglected. A recent report by a group of NGOs released by Prof. Amartya Sen on living conditions of Muslims in West Bengal has laid bare the details of the relative backwardness of the community and how very little has been achieved for their development and empowerment. The representation of the minority community in government services still remains minimal.

·       The government has tried to mix religion and politics, both to provoke reactions from the right wing forces against ‘appeasement’ and at the same time using this as a pretext to neglect basic socio-economic and educational needs of the minorities.

·       Interest of other religious minorities like Christians also stand neglected in the state. The linguistic minorities have also not received due recognition of their contribution to the state and have often felt neglected.  

·       Corruption has reached an unprecedented level with the general public being looted of lakhs of crores of money by the leaders of the ruling party under the guise of illegal chit fund schemes.

·       Leaders including Members of Parliament, MLAs, Ministers and Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Kolkata Corporation have been seen accepting bribes.  Instead of acting against the corrupt, government has been siding with them. Government had tried its best to prevent a CBI investigation in the Sharada and other Chit Fund scam, spending public money to argue against investigation in corruption. One of the accused in jail continued to be a minister in the state cabinet for about a year and has been rewarded with nomination to contest election by the ruling party.

·        Both Modi and Mamata government have decided not to take any action over Narada string video featuring 14 TMC leaders and one serving IPS official accepting bribes.

Congress Vision For West Bengal

·       Congress has not been at the helm of power in West Bengal past almost 40 years.  The solid economic foundation, industrialization and pathways of economic development of the state were laid by successive Congress government beginning from 1950s to 1970s.

·       The period since then has witnessed a gradual downslide of the economic prospects of the state. From a front ranking state in economic terms in the country, Bengal witnessed a downhill journey.

·       Bengal’s competitive edges were blunted. Out migration became a constant feature of the state. Even while other states picked up momentum in their economic stride, Bengal could not hold on to our place. This must change.

·       We must rewrite our destiny as a people and as a state. Even while we have much to learn from history, let us not get prejudiced and blind to the realities.

·       We cannot afford to remain a prisoner of our past, of our prejudices and of our animosity.

·       Congress believes in looking forward, to reengage and to recreate the best in our potentials.

·       We remain firmly committed to the ideology of Constitutional Order, Parliamentary Democracy, Liberal Values, Inclusive Development, Good Governance and Secularism.

·       We shall never deviate from our ideological moorings and we would continue to champion these ideals as a guide to all our activities.

·       This ideological and political position has dictated our electoral strategy in the election to Legislative Assembly. We have entered into an electoral understanding of seat sharing with the CPIM and other Left parties.  We believe that Congress and Left must pull their strength and join together to establish a united democratic secular government in West Bengal.

·       This is the only way to meet the twin challenges for democracy and secularism both in the country as well as in our state. Let us unite to defeat and unseat the TMC government and free the state from its misrule and repression. Let us pull together our strength to defeat RSS/BJP. It is necessary. It is possible.

Agenda of Governance and Development: Manifesto Highlights

Indian National Congress has resolved to constitute a united democratic secular government in West Bengal. We are supportive of all progressive policies, measures and actions that benefit the economic prospects of West Bengal and promote the welfare of people within the framework of our political and ideological orientations. However, herein we are listing our focus points and priority areas as part of our agenda of governance and development.

Democracy and Rule of Law
·       Functional multi-party democracy
·       Ensuring Human Rights and protection of laws for everyone
·       Increase the powers and autonomy of Human Rights Commission
·       Strengthen the powers of State Election Commission

Law and Order
·       Zero tolerance of support and encouragement of anti-national activities
·       Severe measures against perpetrators of violence against women
·       Measures to Free the state of illicit arms and bombs in within two years
·       Zero tolerance of mob violence
·       Necessary reform in police administration

Primacy of Protection of Women’s Interest
·       30 per cent of all new recruitment in police forces from women
·       24 Hour Helpline for women facing sexual harassment in each block
·       Removing jurisdiction boundaries for police in registering criminal cases
·       Mandatory for a reporting officer to comment upon on the gender sensitivity of the police personnel in the Annual Performance Appraisal Report
·       Detailed database of persons convicted of crimes against women on website
·       Open, voluntary, dignified and above all safe places of women’s shelter.
·       More ‘Working Women’s Hostels’ will be set up
·       Sensitizing teachers on gender equality

·       Speedy investigation into Saradha and other chit fund scams
·       Investigation into TET Recruitment Scam of 2011 and non-declaration of TET result
·       A functional Lokayukta
·       Probe into the Narada sting operation on public servants accepting bribes
·       Strong regulatory framework against fraudulent companies and institutions

·       Strong measures against people creating disharmony, inciting violence
·       Non-interference in the religious affairs
·       Non-discrimination on religious grounds

Administration and Governance
·       Balance between democratic rights of employees and maintenance of discipline
·       Probity and transparency in awarding contracts
·       A Citizen’s Charter of Services and delivery
·       Dignity of physically and visually challenged people
·       Non-discrimination toward third gender and LGBT community

Pravasi Ministry
·       A new department under a Minister to protect the interests of residents of West Bengal in other parts of the country or abroad
·       To connect to the vast Bengali Diaspora and bring their knowledge, expertise and skills on a common platform

Food Security
·       Full implementation of Right to Food Security passed by UPA II government
·       Provision of rice at @ Rs 2 and adequate quantum of wheat to poor families
·       Strengthen public distribution system and provide ration

Employment Generation
·       StrengthenMGNREGA with expanded scope
·       To find ways and means to provide economic support to the unemployed
·       Filling in the vacant posts and position at all levels and cadres
·       Development of IT & ITES to create more job opportunities

·       Commitment to implement Right to Education
·       Campus democracy, autonomy and peace
·       Speedy and transparent recruitment to teaching positions
·       Minimum qualifications for Management Committee positions
·       Online admission in all the colleges and universities
·       Online system for nomination papers for college election
·       Substantial increase in salaries of Para Teachers and Part Time Teachers
·       Medical colleges in each of the districts
·       Special Emphasis on Vocational Training and Skill development
·       Focus on literacy on financial inclusion

·       Filling in the vacancies in Health care administration, doctors and nurses
·       Focus on creating infrastructure in hospitals
·       Introduction of  male nursing cadre
·       State levied taxes on life saving drugs to be reduced
·       Medical colleges in each of the districts
·       Regular vaccination drive to improve public health
·       Improvement of healthcare facilities in every blocks and villages
·       Proper Drug control mechanism
·       Revival of proposal for an additional AIIMS, at Raiganj

Science & technology
·       A comprehensive scheme for digital  education
·       Focus on Environmentally sustainable technology usage
·       Upgradation of  IT and ITES infrastructure in all the Government Departments
·       Measures to attract best scientific brains of the world to work in the state

Agriculture and Rural Development
·       Land acquisition only under the 2013 Act protective of the interest of farmers
·       Strict adherence to providing Minimum Support Prices for procurements, restrictions on the activities of middlemen in grain procurement
·       Availability of agricultural loan at cheaper rate; Focus on crop insurance
·       Introduction of e-market, to link farmers with buyers via Internet
·       Cold storage facility in each of the Blocks of the state
·       Primacy of Panchayats and local elected bodies in development planning

Industry and Business
·       Government support to industry to acquire land as per the 2013 Act with mandatory consent and other conditions including protection of the interest of the land owner and other stakeholders
·       Revival of focus on industry
·       New approaches and methods for the revival of jute and Tea industry
·       Repeal The Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act
·       Permission of the government to acquire and hold land in excess of ceiling area to be made automatic instead of discretionary
·       Promotion of Knowledge based industry and Industrial Research Institutes
·       Revival of existing SEZ zones and consideration of new proposals
·       Development of Haldia docks
·       Abolition of Entry Tax for goods into the state
·       Single window system for procuring licenses
·       Protection of small and mid-level businesses from extortion and syndicate raj’
·       Regional Offices of SEBI in Kolkata

Labour and Industrial Relations
·       Strict enforcement of minimum wages for labour
·       Repeal of outdated labour related laws and introduction of a new comprehensive Act on labour laws
·       Industrial Disputes Act to be substituted by Industrial Relations Act
·       Flexibility for businesses and establishment to decide on workdays and hours without compromising rights of workers to adequate compensation

·       Revisiting the tariff rate for electricity consumption including power audit
·       To develop a long term comprehensive plan for power sector
·       To focus on obtaining/purchasing natural gas
·       Promotion of Alternative Energy to meet the burgeoning power demand

Infrastructure and Transport
·       To prioritize infrastructure development, communication and transport linkages
·       Mega Projects like East West Metro and Freight Corridor to receive special focus
·       State of Art Roadways and Waterways
·       Promotion of Alternative Energy public vehicles across the state to control pollution

Small and Medium Enterprises
·       Simplification of legal framework of starting up a new business.
·       Setting up facilitation center to foster indigenous technology, products and services.
·       Programs and incentives to support innovation, research and development
·       To set up incubation centres in districts to accelerate entrepreneurship

Environment Protection and Pollution Control
·       Environment protection and pollution control to receive due importance in development planning
·       Autonomy and requisite power to Pollution Control Board
·       Involving environmentalists and Green NGOs in development planning
·       Electricity duty subsidy for new industries incorporating green measures by design
·       Incentives for power generation from Waste heat recovery.
·       Technical Assistance to SMEs
·       Incentives for energy recovery from waste and Green Factory Buildings.
·       Arsenic free water facilities in Sunderban and different parts of South Bengal
·       Rainwater Harvesting infrastructure in Sunderban to get rid of drinking water problems

Animal Husbandry, Fisheries, Horticulture
·       Promote new schemes and technologies for preventive vaccination, treatment of sick animals
·       Establishment of veterinary clinics at the block level.
·       Increase the number of qualified veterinary graduates
·       Prepare a road map for fisheries development and bridge the demand-supply gap
·       Assist and provide research, development and extension support in a collaborative approach for fisheries development in the state.
·       Developing and utilizing open coal pit for aquaculture/ cage culture
·       Create a demand –driven approach for horticultural products

Urban development                                                                   
·       Focus on availibility of safe drinking water for all
·       Introduction of smart Cities in phases
·       Integrated urban planning and management for municipalities and corporations with focus on enhancing and upgrading the sewerage and drainagesystem
·       Encourage Environmentally sustainable Eco-friendly buildings with Solar Energy and Rainwater Harvesting facilities

Religious Minorities
·       Socio-economic, health and educational needs and concerns of Muslims to be the utmost priority
·       Special focus on access to healthcare in minority concentrated blocks
·       Positive facilitator for better accessibility to financial assistance from banks
·       Enhanced support for the teachers employed in minority run educational institutes
·       Protecting and serving the rightful interests of Christians, Sikhs, Jains and Parsis

Linguistic Minorities
·       Protecting the interests of people speaking Hindi, Nepali, Oriya, Santhali, Gujarati and Gurmukhi languages and support the promotion of these languages
·       Promotion of Kamatapuri language

Backward Classes and Tribal welfare
·       Focus on full implementation of all existing policies and schemes for backward classes and tribal population of the state
·       Measures for welfare of the Kurmi community
·       Infrastructural development of the rural areas
·       Implementation of right to forest for the tribal population

Flood Control and River Erosion
·       An integrated and comprehensive flood control policy
·       Concretization of river banks
·       Plantation of erosion resistant crops
·       Regular desilting of the river bed

·       An integrated infrastructure support program for tourism promotion
·       Upgrading Darjeeling Himalayan Railways
·       Development of new tourism spots
·       Development of river tourism
·       An integrated IT system and Online Apps to book all the tourist spots of the state from a common platform
·       Improvement in tourism infrastructure

Skill Development
·       Development of a roadmap for skill development in consultation with industry and labour
·       Soft skills training centers in each block of the state
·       Engage research institutes in helping artisans of Bengal in finding better equipment and material for their work

Social Welfare
·       BPL lists would be scrutinized for necessary amendments 
·       E-window service centers in BDO offices to rectify mistakes in BPL names
·       Efficient and Transparent IT & ITES system to link bank accounts with beneficiaries
·       24 hour support Centre in each block of the state for the elderly, destitute, missing children, physically challenged and other vulnerable sections of population

·       Affordable Housing Scheme to every BPL family under “Right to Shelter” initiative

Promotion of Art and Culture
·       Establishing and enhancing support for museums, libraries and galleries 
·       Promotion of folk cultures and dying arts
·       Online merchandizing of products to attract national and international customers
·       Engage internationally renowned artists and performers in Expert Committees to chalk out a plan to promote the culture of Bengal outside Bengal

Youth Development
·       Formation of a Sports University and Sports Research Institute
·       Promotion of Yoga in every school and college to prevent lifestyle diseases
·       Awareness campaign against addiction

Regional Development
·       Special needs and aspirations of North Bengal to receive priority
·       Maximum possible autonomy to Hills
·       Enhancement of powers and resources of Paschimanchal, Jangalmahal, Sunderban and other development boards and authorities

(Compilation From Inputs By West Bengal Congress Committee) 

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