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Fir for prime minister? - The Economic Times

S L Rao ()
March 2, 1998

Title: Fir for prime minister?
Author: S L Rao
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: March 2, 1998

Indians more than many others appear to believe that as a person
ages, he develops wisdom and integrity. There is no empirical
evidence for this. One can think of at least as many examples
among our leadership about whom this is not true.

In recent years, the present chief minister of West Bengal has
been proposed (and has proposed himself) as the ideal candidate
for prime minister. The reason appears to be the belief that his
age and long years as chief minister have made him wise and able
to handle the contradictions of coalition government.

It would therefore be useful to look at his record of governance
for almost twenty years. That might have more bearing on his
ability to lead India into the new century and beyond.

(Neither he nor his protagonists appear concerned about the
physical and mental capacity of an octogenarian to rule India).
We can look at some of the data on human development in West
Bengal to evaluate his performance as the longest serving chief

Published statistics show that West Bengal is one of the poor
states of India. Per capita income lags behind that of thirteen
other states and union territories. From 10.8 per cent of the
national product in 1960, it was 8.57 per cent in 1994, and a
growth rate well below that for the country.

The incidence of poverty has declined dramatically due to the
effective implementation of a redistributive land reforms policy
and decentralisation to panchayat level planning. This decline is
higher than for the rest of India. However, the state has a low
score in human development.

Overall literacy is higher than the national average. This is
also the case among scheduled castes but not among scheduled
tribes. The school drop out rate for girls is among the highest.

On indicators of health status like infant mortality and life
expectancy, the state is about average. From a relative share of
value added in manufacturing of 22 per cent in 1960, West Bengal
is 5.9 per cent in 1992-93. Its share of bank advances has been
dropping and the credit-deposit ratio has fallen more sharply.

A recent sample survey of human development profiles by states
done by NCAER gives more information. The average household
income for rural India is low in West Bengal. Earnings from non-
agricultural labour are low. Land ownership among rural
households is the lowest percentage.

It is among the least electrified states, and access to tap water
is low, as is the ownership of consumer durable products like
television sets, electric fans and radios. The public
distribution system appears to be very weak in its reach to the
rural poor.

Twenty years under a single leader have not transformed West
Bengal. It is worse than most other states with less durable
leaderships. While land redistribution seems to have been done
effectively early in the regime, the people of West Bengal have
in many ways benefitted less than many others.

The ideological mindset seems to be that government should
distribute poverty, but not function efficiently and enable the
creation of wealth, through industrialisation and other non-
agricultural activities. The concern over equality and labour
rights have led to de-industrialisation, the flight of capital
and poor growth.

The proof of good leadership must lie in a record of performance.
The record in this instance is at best patchy, and on many counts
worse than many other Indian states.

The record of the CPM in the coalition at Delhi has been
negative, even subversive. They turned against the agreed common
economic programme, and in the latest United Front manifesto,
have turned their backs against measures that could improve
India's competitiveness.

Neither the candidate nor his party appear to be keen on allowing
India to develop, and lift the poor up through economic growth.
Long life and long years in one job are not going to give India a
leader with the vision to take us out of poverty and

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