April 30, 2014

Silently, far from the cackle of TV studios...

Every election has a narrative. In a conventional campaign, spread over three to four weeks, the narrative is consistent and can be carried through till the very end. In a multi-phase election, stretching across two months or more, the narrative is challenged and effort is needed to sustain it.

Why does this happen? Frankly, fatigue and familiarity set in. Pushing the same message or set of messages becomes difficult. In the 2014 election, a campaign that in effect began in February will have to be lengthened to the middle of May. In the case of West Bengal, polling is taking place in five phases, from the foothills of the Himalayas to the vastness of Bengal’s heartland to the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans. Can a common narrative survive this gruelling test of geography and time?

In the Trinamool Congress, we certainly believe so. For us the narrative of the election is the good work done by Mamata Banerjee’s government since it took charge of Writers’ Buildings in the summer of 2011. The Lok Sabha poll is primarily a referendum on the new Bengal that we have sought to build, brick by brick, inch by inch, gradually.

Take two examples of initiatives that are little noticed by the hyperbole-obsessed media but are nevertheless expected to yield us handsome returns in the voting booth. Kanyashree is a scheme that is being much appreciated especially in north and central Bengal, where poverty figures are high and where the girl child is an object of acute neglect.

Our state has had a long-standing problem in these regions of girls being married off early, in their teens. Consequently, they become mothers at a very young age and that leads to health issues for the girl in question as well as for the family and society at large. For the girl’s parents getting her married off early is a practical solution to the household budget. It means there is one less mouth to feed. There is no incentive to delay marriage and educate the girl.

Kanyashree is a state government scheme that has stepped into this gap. It offers girl children and their families Rs 500 every year through their period of schooling. When a girl turns 18, Rs 25,000 is transferred to the family’s bank account. This money can be used for higher studies or, if the family and girl so choose, to pay for wedding expenses. The option is personal.

Kanyashree has proved an immensely popular scheme. Already, we are seeing growing retention of girls in schools and drop-out rates are falling. In a five to seven year period, I am confident we will have dramatic social and economic results. UNICEF too are impressed. Last week they confirmed that they would partner the West Bengal government on this project. Silently, far from the cackle of television studios, a revolution has begun in rural Bengal.

The other mission that Mamatadi has focused on and that is paying us dividends is the determined setting up of a network of fair-price medicine shops, to provide drugs and medicines at affordable rates to ordinary people. Out-of-pocket healthcare expenses are high in our country. A particularly debilitating illness, and the associated costs, can push a family living just above the poverty line back into destitution. Access to and assurance of cheap medicines is a boon in this regard.

These are only two snapshots of the assiduous and optimistic change that we have succeeded in introducing to the heart of Bengal in the past three years. That is why, miles from the shouting matches between Congress and BJP spokespersons, undeterred by the screaming and name calling of discredited and desperate CPI(M) busybodies, the Bengali voter is renewing her trust in Mamatadi.

As the election reaches its final fortnight, the Trinamool narrative is proving persuasive.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress