India Insight

Heat guaranteed in parliament’s winter session

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Thomson Reuters)

It is getting colder by the day in New Delhi but the winter session of parliament, which starts on Thursday, promises to be a heated one.

In September, the monsoon session was largely disrupted by opposition protests. Since then India’s political landscape has gone through drastic, and some dramatic, changes.

Here’s a quick recap:

REFORM BOOST: This was the spark. The government allowed foreign investment in retail and initiated reforms in sectors such as aviation, insurance and pension.

To battle India’s ballooning deficit, the government raised diesel prices and capped the number of subsidised cooking gas cylinders per family. Obviously, people were angry.

Out of the DMK frying pan and into Mamata’s fire for Congress

Fresh from negotiating the continued support of one key coalition ally, Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and the Congress party heavyweights must now tackle the demands of the more politically canny and locally powerful Mamata Banerjee.

India's Railways Minister Mamata Banerjee speaks before giving the final touches to the annual budget for the railways in New Delhi February 24, 2011. REUTERS/B Mathur

As the bleary eyes of Congress negotiators turned over the morning papers on Wednesday after almost two days of political horse-trading with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), the relief of front page headlines declaring the Tamil Nadu party’s climbdown will have been cut short by the ominous presence of Banerjee and her own seat-sharing demands in the political minefield of West Bengal.

Banerjee, Railways Minister and leader of the opposition in West Bengal, is commonly referred to as “Didi” – Hindi for elder sister – and can often appear to be spearheading a one-woman party.

After wooing voters, Mamata charms Bengal Inc

Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee rolls on with a bagful of bounty for one and all in West Bengal, even as the state’s corporate big wheels close ranks with her.Her eyes all set on the 2011 assembly elections, Banerjee shed the image of an anti-industry politician, using to the hilt the resources the world’s largest employer (Indian Railways) could offer.The industry-basher epithet stuck thick on Mamata after Tata Motors made an angry exit from Singur last year, bowing before a wave of protests over 400 acres of farmland acquired forcibly by the communist state government for the Nano plant.Just when a section of people and political pundits had written her off, Mamata’s gamble with the land movement and the state’s poor human rights record paid off.Now in a hurry to catch the 2011 train, Mamata (referred to in local media as chief minister-in-waiting) has impressed industrialists with her impatience to fast-track projects in West Bengal.She is now offering land to set up factories, emphasizing on setting up Public Private Partnership (PPP) models to develop the infrastructure of railway and industry.”Mamata means business” wrote The Telegraph after her August 21 meeting with industrialists. The largest circulated English daily from eastern India had less than a year ago written against the Trinamool Congress chief for driving out the Tatas from Singur.Mamata’s meeting was a durbar of sorts as she addressed members of the country’s three leading chambers of commerce and urged industrialists to set up shop on available railway land.”I urge you all to take the opportunity and use the land available to set up industry,” she told industrialists, chanting her slogan of Ma, Mati and Manush (Mother, Soil and People).Mamata said the railways had already prepared a land bank and about 112,000 acres are available.With her popular railway budget and various initiatives, the ghosts of Singur seemed to have been exorcised. Mamata said land disputes can be avoided with proper planning and human approach.The meeting, which has been organised by the Railways, cleared any doubts about her anti-industry posturing in the past.For now it is brand Mamata that rules Bengal as excitement builds up in the run-up to her big show in 2011.

Bengal intellectuals queer pitch for communists

Amidst the stream of billboards, posters and party flags flooding Kolkata’s chaotic streets in the run-up to elections, a glazed hoarding featuring popular intellectuals of West Bengal is catching everyone’s eyes these days.

“Pariborton Chai” (We want change), reads the hoarding popping up at regular intervals, in opposition of the communists who have ruled the state uninterruptedly since 1977.

The hoardings are part of a campaign with a difference – It is not mounted by the opposition Trinamool Congress-Congress combine, but by a group of powerful intellectuals who have joined hands against the communists.

Stars add glamour to Trinamool’s campaign in Bengal

The controversial seizure of land for industry by the ruling communists in West Bengal may be the biggest chink in their armour for the 2009 polls.

But the opposition Trinamool Congress is not leaving anything to chance in this general election — it’s also taking help from the stars.

Enter Tapas Paul. The archetypal Bengali film hero in the closing decades of the 20th century is already a lawmaker in the state assembly.

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