Respected Mahua Moitra Madam,
The role of opposition in a democracy can be quoted very aptly through the words of Walter Lippmann which goes as the following, “In a democracy, the opposition is not only tolerated as constitutional but must be maintained because it is indispensable.” Being a learned member of the parliament of the largest democracy in the world, I am sure you are very well aware of it. But your recent comments on the non-residential Bengalis as published in Anandabazar Patrika are very unfortunate, to say the least. Expats supporting the party are often deployed to defend the shortcomings. Whereas those raising questions against the Bengal government are being projected as uprooted (rather than non-residential) Bengalis. This derisive attitude is very unbecoming of your stature and against the spirit of democracy.
In your recent writing, you have put forward a lot of data from across the globe. I would like to remind you of some data from our own state of West Bengal. Our population is 7.54% to that of India. If the national percentage of COVID19 testing is to be followed, West Bengal should have carried out 43,720 tests whereas only 9880 tests have been conducted which is 442% less (at the time of publication of original Bengali article in Bangladesh on April 28th). Can you kindly explain why the numbers of COVID19 tests being carried out in central research centres were reduced? What steps were undertaken by the government to increase the number of daily tests? In the recent past, CM Mamata Banerjee had said that her government is considering the possibility of a partial relief of lockdown. But how could the situation become so dire within such a small span of time? Did the government not have enough information at hand? When the lockdown started, the Bengal government seemed to have set up isolation centres almost in a war footing. But as soon as the videos depicting mismanagement of these isolation wards went viral, the use of mobile was banned. Thanks to social media, news of closedown of Hospital units and midnight funeral of possible COVID19 victims (often without informing the kin) has come forward. Do the people of Bengal have no right to raise these questions?
As you have compared Gujarati and Bengali ex-pats in your writing, it is necessary to bring forth some hard facts. Gujaratis go across the country primarily for business and travel across the globe for business or job. Whereas Bengalis cannot set up a business within their own state. Syndicate, non-payment, high handedness is constant impediments that vitiate the environment. Scores of industrious Bengalis have gone bankrupt due to these troubles, what has the government done to improve the situation?
Also, the job prospect looks equally dire within the state. As soon as Mamata Banerjee came to power, she stopped SEZ and took a stand against FDI. The land is not being allotted; even the port construction on the Bay of Bengal has been stopped. There are no four-lane state highways; the land is not being allotted for national highways. Jiagunj-Azimgunj bridge construction has not finished in 10 years due to legal problem with only 1 Katha of land!! Metro rail was not allowed to invest 50% (like in other states) nor is the land being allotted, airport expansion was halted. The land was not provided for Kolkata Delhi freight corridor. No significant investments have come in even after 4 industrial summits. Neither industrialization has taken place, nor is there focus on infrastructure development. The last hope people had was government service. Now with the rampant corruption, that has also become a distant not so feasible dream for most. RICE, MICE coaching centres are on the decline as pupils are quickly losing faith in the exam.
The first IIT, IIM, IISWBM, ISI in India were set up in West Bengal, not Gujarat. Centre government constructed Teesta, Farakka, DVC in Bengal, whereas Gujarat paid for Sardar Sarovar Dam out of their own pockets. Gujarat did not have centre funding for industrial hubs like Durgapur, Haldia, Kharagpur, Saltlake, Kalyani etc, we did. But today, Gujarat is successful because their successive governments have worked for the state. Whereas Bengal, after suffering three decades of communism was already a sick state, Mamata Banerjee government has fared hardly any better.
We are researchers living abroad and we would love to return to our state and work for her development. But sadly, the present environment in West Bengal promotes sycophancy than talent. The pay scale of doctors in Bengal is equivalent to that of nurses at AIIMS. The humungous failures of the state government are beyond comprehension.
It is true that the total number of COVID cases is higher in Gujarat, but at least they are being transparent with their numbers, unlike Bengal. The present regime in Bengal is trying hard to suppress the numbers thinking of electoral politics rather than the health of the people of Bengal. It is only expected that concerned citizens will ask questions when a state government eyes for electoral politics at the time of a global pandemic.
Lastly, we may be ex-pats, but a lot of us are Indian citizens and we have a democratic right to ask questions to the government of the day. At least we are not demanding an UN-monitored referendum like our CM did in case of an internal matter like CAA.
(This article was first published on bangodesh.com in Bengali, authored by Rudra Prasanna Banerjee who is a researcher, University of Alberta, Canada)