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How efficacious a tool the language of threat can be in achieving one's goal?

Publication Date : 21-07-2014


Time has come for Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee to reflect on this serious question. It’s she among top politicians in the country who has been using this tool most since the days of Singur turmoil between 2006 and 2008 followed by her worthy copycats in her party, Anubrata Mondol-Manirul Islam-Arabul Islam-Tapas Paul et al.

For, it’s not merely an academic-psychological-social-criminal question, but an issue on which Bengal’s industrial, political and
social development hinges.

Her latest threat asking the Sajjan Jindalcontrolled JSW Steel to begin the construction of its 10-million tonne steel plant at Salboni in West Midnapore without any further delay, or else she would take back the land given to it brings the matter into sharper focus.

Blustering and flustering have been the hallmark of Mamata Banerjee’s political and administrative style of functioning. It worked well when
she was railway minister and she could get done various railway projects, including the extension of the Metro railway from Tollygunge
to Garia smashing opposition and dilatory tactic by alleged contractor-officer-trade union nexus.

In one case, it’s an open secret, she could make railway officers work well beyond their office hours to suspend an employee  on a charge of molesting a subordinate woman employee almost summarily without strictly following standard procedures.

Banerjee’s tactic of threat and rolling of eyes brought her a fair measure of success as long as she was the railway minister since
the railways’ internal administrative culture is governed by rules that one can violate to one’s peril. 

 Public servants of the well-knit, largest public enterprise in the country had to bend backward to please their minister and the fear of the supreme boss clicked for Banerjee.

But, once she assumed charge as state chief minister, she soon found out it’s a different ball game altogether. So much so that she even complained within months of stepping into Writers’ Buildings that she wasn’t used to “such appalling work culture” as till then she had
“experience of being  Central ministers”.

At her first Cabinet meeting on the day she was sworn in as chief minister her government  took the decision that farm land the previous
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee-government had forcibly acquired from unwilling farmers of Singur for the Tata Motors’ aborted small car
project would be returned to the protesting farmers. This was to prove to the people that her politics of threat was efficacious indeed.

For, the Trinamul-sponsored Singur agitation sought to din into the ears of Ratan Tata and his managers of the Tata Motors that unless
and until they returned land to the 400-odd families, not a single “Nano” car would be allowed to roll out of the Singur stable.
Banerjee made it clear to the Tatas that her threat had to be taken seriously. What happened thereafter is history.

But, till now it hasn’t been conclusively decided in this case whether the language of threat really works . The Singur land case is now
mired in hair-splitting, legal arguments. Unlike officials in the railways, Tata and his managers have refused to cower before
Banerjee’s threat.

The abandoned, incomplete, rusting structure of the factory at  Singur for which hundreds of crores of rupees have been spent and the disputed land locked up in the project are subjects of a grim legal battle.

Banerjee’s threat to the JSW Steel sounds even more intriguing and its effectiveness more suspect. First, she issued it at a party
meeting soon after inaugurating a cement factory project at Salboni.

Secondly, she didn’t try to straighten it out with the JSW Steel management creating the impression that she was merely playing to the gallery.

Thirdly, (the most intriguing element in this threat as a strategic tool), the JSW Steel, as per a company Press communique, has already taken the state government on board about the reasons of the delay in the construction of the plant. It also claims it has apprised
the state government of the critical issue of the reluctance and virtual refusal of other states controlling iron ore deposits to let
the company take the raw material to the Salboni plant.

Why then did the chief minister issue the threat to the JSW Steel  ?

Definitely, the spate of recent notices of suspension of work by well known companies doing business in the state for decades and the state government’s failure to get any major industrial projects has made Banerjee jittery.

More so because her party’s failure to be part of the new government at the Centre despite bagging 34 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from the state and a sudden rise of the BJP’s popularity in the state make the saffron party a real threat to the ruling party.

But, Banerjee has to learn as quickly as possible that investors of proven track record can never be intimidated or coerced to spend
their money or surrender their projects, in which they have pumped in hundreds of crores of rupees, without a tough and dogged fight. The
government must be persuasive and inspire confidence in the investors.

A haughty and Marxist dogma-bound former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee understood the truth and hence he became a darling for
captains of industry during his last term.  The result was Bengal was on its way to an industrial turn around on the wings of the Nano
project and mega petro-chemical hub at Nandigram.

If Bhattcharjee’s over-confidence and reliance on the muscle power of his trusted comrades ruined the chance of that economic recovery,
his successor Banerjee’s language of empty threat and rigidity on the land issue are pushing Bengal into a blind alley.

The political and social consequences of the use of threat are now for all to see with Banerjee’s followers going berserk scaring people
with the prospect of rapes, reprisals and extortion when they go to enroll their sons and daughters in colleges and universities.

(The Writer is the Chief of Bureau of The Statesman)



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