A paper examining the strategies used by the incumbent to retain its seat in government
Jha, Debayit, et al.’ Prosperity or Decline? Political Stability in West Bengal’, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol 57, Issue No. June 25, 18, 2022
The All India Trinamool Congress (AITMC), or the Trinamool Congress (TMC), continues its regime in West Bengal with a higher vote share in 2021 than in the 2016 parliamentary elections. Debajit Jha, in his article, “Prosperity or decay? ‘Political Stability in West Bengal’ draws attention to the party’s strategies to maintain its influence among the people. He explains how the concept of political society plays an important role in sustaining such power and how a complicated interdependence relationship is created to secure the party’s share of votes.
Prioritizing the rural economy
The paper begins by explaining how the growth in per capita income of West Bengal during 2011-19 (Government of Trinamool) not only remained lower than the growth of the previous decades of the left-led regime but also fell below the national average. Looking at the agriculture, manufacturing, and services sectors, it further explained that while there was a 3.3% growth in agriculture compared to 1.6% in India, the other two industries that generate more income and are the engines of the modern economy saw a decline in growth. This implies a lack of resources to finance the social security schemes introduced by the state during this period.
But thanks to the growth of agriculture and spending on social security systems, per capita spending in rural areas rose, while poverty in the state fell sharply. Data also showed that the state’s unemployment rate in rural and urban regions was lower than the national average. Evidence of the state’s strategy to refocus agricultural and rural development schemes suggests how the current development model benefited the rural region and the farm sector at the expense of the urban and industrial/service sectors. Despite the miniscule amount spent on schemes, the government provided a majority for the needs of the rural crowd, who make up 70% of the population.
The political society
The success of welfare schemes depends on their effective implementation; forming framework organizations that disseminate and deal with any grievances related to the plans becomes extremely crucial. The role of the informal sector in shaping what Partha Chatterjee describes as political society becomes important to understand the process of cadres and people’s dependence on social services.
The political society consists of those who depend on the incumbent political party daily. The document focuses on the people from rural areas with low and insecure incomes, as most depend on agriculture for survival. They rely on panchayats and political parties for help with subsidized seeds, fertilizers, agricultural insurance, etc. This is especially true when the growth engines do not offer many revenue opportunities.
During the 34 years of the left-wing regime in West Bengal, the political and socio-cultural aspects of society were associated with the party. Strong ideology and policies in favor of people with low incomes, such as the redistribution of land, were an important factor in gaining the loyalty of the people and formed the so-called ‘party society’, as described by Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya in his paper, “Or Control and Factions: The Changing Party Society of Rural West Bengal”. Still, the lack of productive investment in agriculture after redistribution caused, among other things, a transition of power and control in West Bengal. The Trinamool Congress, in the absence of such a strong ideology or political organization or even sufficient funds for social security schemes, had to come up with innovative strategies to maintain political society and its popularity.
Schemes for ‘cutting money.’
The experience of the left-wing regime shows how party organizations are accused of corruption in implementing welfare schemes. To avoid such problems, the government of Trinamool has appointed outside agencies paid through rent or commissions to redistribute social benefits. Since the funds used for the schemes have been rationed, the government has found ways to ensure that the beneficiaries of the projects themselves paid the fees/commissions.
There are indications that the rent obtained is shared between the local and central leaders of the ruling political party. The two tools used to extract rent are popularly known as “syndicate” and “money-cutting”. Syndicate is a term used for organized corruption and extortion formed by a small group of unemployed youth affiliated with a political party that mainly controls a geographical area and is active in urban West Bengal’s manufacturing and construction sectors. A symbiotic relationship is formed between the syndicate and the government, with the syndicate continuing its illegal activities with the protection of the government and the government, takingsome of the money the syndicate generates and their muscle power to suppress opposition voters.
In the rural regions, ‘austerity’ – the unofficial commission charged by local leaders to the beneficiaries of government schemes – funds outside agencies. The lack of understanding of schemes and the ‘take it or leave it’ attitude of the politicians in a state where economic opportunities are miniscule forces people to pay for benefits and not become completely opposed to the government because external authorities are held responsible.
Such methods have different effects on rural and urban regions. By extracting money from small business owners and investors, syndicates lead to decreased economic activity. On the other hand, austerity generates rent, which also means that the more social amenities, the more rent is generated. So to seek more rent, more government regulations and policies are being adopted, which increase the region’s economic development.
The idea that economic growth leads to the growing popularity of the ruling party is contested by the strategy employed by the Trinamool government. While economic actors may have conflicting interests in an unequal society, the incumbent prefers to serve the lower-income group to gain popularity with the majority. This may not lead to real development, as the state focuses on a specific need rather than general growth. Furthermore, mobilizing resources through rent-seeking encourages executives to work for vested interests as their livelihoods depend on it. This results in fear-mongering and violence in the state when there is public discontent about favoritism, deprivation, poor governance, and a lack of transparency.
While the paper goes into depth about the strategies the incumbent party used to maintain its power in West Bengal through political society, it does not explain its sociocultural role, an important aspect of the party society in which the left-wing regime retains control for more than three decades.
The Trinamool Congress, lacking a strong ideology or political organization or enough money for social security schemes, had to develop innovative strategies to maintain its popularity. Debayit Jha, in his article, ‘Prosperity or Decline? ‘Political Stability in West Bengal’ draws attention to the Trinamool Congress’s strategies to maintain its influence among the people.
To avoid allegations of corruption within the framework, the Trinamool government has appointed outside agencies to redistribute welfare schemes. As the funds used for the projects have been rationed, the government has found ways to ensure that the fees paid to the agencies were deducted from the schemes’ beneficiaries. The two methods money has been extracted include syndicates (in urban regions) and austerity techniques (in rural areas).