Mon, 17 Jan 2011 10:35:11 GMT | By Sanjaya Baru

Mamata: Wedded to her own future, not the railway's

Only one-way bets are being taken in Kolkata. Mamata Banerjee will be the next chief minister of West Bengal! All sceptics are welcome to bury their heads in sand.

For a state that has not experienced serious "anti-incumbency" for a generation, the results of the 2011 state legislative assembly elections will feel like a revolution. And, as in all revolutions, dealing with the aftermath is going to be more challenging for the victor than the vanquished. Ms Banerjee must start preparing now.

No one, but no one, any longer questions the inevitability of the exit of the Left Front government in West Bengal. Recent violence in the state is a sign of things to come. Neither the victor, Ms Banerjee's Trinamool Congress, nor the vanquished, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), is going to react calmly to the change of regime. Expect more bloodshed in Bengal.

While Ms Banerjee should not take her victory for granted, and there is still doubt among political analysts in the state whether her party will secure outright majority or will have to depend for support on the Congress party, she must devote time to planning what she wants to do with her victory.

Bengal is in a shambles. The state's economy has not recovered from the Nandigram and Singur controversies. An old business elite continues to lord over the few business opportunities available in the state. Few of India's more dynamic new business groups have as yet pitched tent in the state. Those who have, maintain only a token presence. Bengal desperately needs an industrial renaissance. Can Ms Banerjee deliver?

Her track record as a Union minister for railways does not as yet offer a convincing answer either way. She has worked hard to modernise the Indian Railways, and has lent her ear to the wise counsel of several competent advisors both within the railways administration and outside, like the secretary-general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries (Ficci), Amit Mitra, but her commitment to the future of the railways has been weaker than to her own.

To some extent, this is understandable. Her ministry was the most important weapon in her political armoury in the battle she has waged in her home state. She has used the Indian Railways, and will try to do so again in the forthcoming railway budget, to improve her political prospects.

Hopefully, Ms Banerjee will resist this temptation, given that her victory in Kolkata is at hand, and will leave behind a stronger national railway system.

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