Sanjay's post on Somnath Chatterjee was quite well timed, and I couldn't agree more with his diagnosis of mediocrity. In fact, many of us would go further.
India's Communists have failed us, and sadly they’ve been hugely ineffective in being a vigilant opposition over the decades. It's surprising, considering that when India gained independence communists were the main opposition. And, in a country in which hundreds of millions still need to be pulled out of poverty, it's baffling our communist leaders haven't managed a more substantive role in national politics.
India needs a strong, robust Left to help us navigate tough economic choices where, ideally, both growth and equity can be managed. Many of their supporters would say that in the UPA I, the last Congress-headed coalition government, the Left played a positive role in ensuring we treaded a cautious path. And it’s undeniable that most Communist leaders exhibit personal integrity and manage corruption-free political careers. At the CPM office in Delhi's Gole Market, it isn't unusual, for example, to see heavyweight MPs drive their own modest cars, displaying a certain ‘rootedness’ that’s often missing in our politicians.
Yet the state of West Bengal, the party’s bastion and where the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been in government since 1977, does their image little good. It's a state doing poorly on many economic and development indicators. Last year, for example, an important study by well-known economists Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari said West Bengal’s per capita GDP was Rs 29,457 ($635), making it 18th in the country.
The report said that indicators showed underperformance in infrastructure facilities, health and education. In 2005-06, only 27.9 percent of West Bengal’s households had access to safe drinking water, the study found. In Maharashtra, this figure was 78.4 percent and in Tamil Nadu 84.2 percent. The school dropout rate was an astounding 78.03 percent—ironic for a state considered the country's intellectual capital.
Capital Kolkata—known as a cultural hub for music, arts and poetry—lags way behind the country’s other three major metros, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai, and other important urban centres like Bangalore, Hyderabad and Pune, which bustle with growth.
People who travel to Kolkata on business are amazed at how little things have changed, and how the way things operate there seems to be stuck in a time warp. It's a sad state for a city so rich in history, culture and tradition.