Poriborton in Bengal
Three months ago, political pundits predicted a runaway victory for Mamata Banerjee in the assembly polls, prophesying a 220-230-seat win for West Bengal’s feisty chief minister. Today, as West Bengal goes to the fourth phase of polls, it’s an open election.
At the end of most conversations I’ve had while travelling in and around Kolkata and in North 24 Parganas, I heard people say, “Mamata is losing ground but she may scrape through.” She is losing ground in the urban and semi-urban areas, among the ‘bhadralok’. And there are voices against her in her own constituency of Bhawanipur, one of Kolkata’s 11 constituencies.
It is a defensive, not a confident, Mamata Banerjee in evidence, even as she fights back. Her nervousness was evident when in a poll meeting she stated that had she known earlier of the Narada sting operation that exposed some of her party leaders accepting bribes, she would not have given them tickets. ‘Narada’ took place in 2014, but was made public in March 2016 when the poll campaign was underway. It is hardly surprising that Banerjee’s foes should make common cause at this moment.
Saradha, Narada, the Vivekananda flyover collapse and the CPI(M)-Congress ‘joth’ (alliance) have all taken their toll. To see the Congress flag aflutter on the gates of the legendary Alimuddin Street headquarters of the CPI (M), and Congress leader Manas Bhuiyan share the stage with CPI(M) state secretary Surjya Kanta Mishra (seen as the CPI(M)’s chief ministerial face) speak volumes about the changed times. The pressure for an alliance came from below, not imposed from the top.
Whatever be the final outcome, the Left is on a comeback trail. The CPI (M) cadre are now coming out of the woodwork. The poll violence speaks of resistance to the Trinamool Congress’ dominant ways. If the Left makes sizeable gains in West Bengal, and also wrests Kerala, it would strengthen the hands of CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury. He could well emerge as the ‘sutradhar’ for opposition unity in 2019.
In the last five years, Banerjee tried to out-Left the Left. She appears to retain the loyalty of the poorer and rural sections across communities. The rickshaw-puller, the agarbatti-seller, the tea hawker, the cycle repairer, they vouch for her. West Bengal politics being about class, not caste, she has emerged as the symbol of the subaltern classes. Her programmes for the poor, like .₹ 2 a kg rice, and ‘Kanyashree’ to encourage girls to study, or bicycles to students — may be the buffer that shields her from the growing sentiment for 2016 ‘poriborton’.
Two factors will have a bearing on her final tally. One, the extent to which the BJP pulls in anti-Banerjee votes that would otherwise gravitate to the Left-Congress combine. The more strident Prime Minister Narendra Modi is in his attacks on Mamata, ironically, the greater the possibility of his helping her. The BJP may have played its cards initially to make her more dependent on it nationally. But as the ‘joth’ has gained traction, the BJP would now want her hand strengthened. Even though the BJP had polled an impressive 17% of the votes in 2014, it missed the moment when it could have captured the opposition space and gone for an aggressive campaign against Mamata, because of its parliamentary considerations with regard to numbers in the Rajya Sabha.
The second factor is the divide that may take place among the Muslims, who add up to 29% of the electorate, and who had stood solidly behind Banerjee in 2011when she had won184 seats. There are signs of some of them moving away from the Trinamool Congress today, with the more educated and the entrepreneurial Muslims expressing a desire for change. Unlike Muslims elsewhere in the country, in West Bengal, they do not have to contend with the fear of a ‘resurgent BJP’.
One of the reasons why Banerjee did not plump for a pre-poll alliance with the Congress was the calculation that a tie-up with the latter would make her relationship with the Centre very difficult. A state government has to constantly turn to the Centre for funds for projects. (This was also a consideration in Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s decision to ally with the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir.)
If Banerjee notches up seats upwards of 175, she will continue to call the shots in her party, and take independent positions in national politics. If her tally dips to around 160, even though this constitutes a majority, the knives will come out for her within her own party, making her government vulnerable. She will be caught between a demanding Centre in Delhi and an aggressive Left in Kolkata. The rise of digital innovators in financial services presents a big threat to the traditional business models of retail banks. Banks offer basic services, such as low-cost checking, and so-called sticky customer relationships allow them to earn attractive margins in other areas, including investment management, credit card fees or forex transactions.
To better understand how attackers could affect the economics of banks, we disaggregated the origination and sales component from the balancesheet and fulfilment component of all banking products. Our research shows: 59% of the banks’ earnings flow from pure fee products, such as advice or payments, and origination, sales and distribution component of balance-sheet products, like loans or deposits. Here, returns on equity (ROE) average an attractive 22%.
That’s much higher than the 6% ROE of the balance-sheet provision and fulfilment component of products (such as loans), which have high operating costs and high capital requirements. Digital startups (fintechs) — and big non-bank tech companies in e-retailing, media and other sectors — could exploit this mismatch in banking’s business model.
Across the emerging fintech landscape, the customers most susceptible to cherrypicking are millennials, small businesses and the underbanked: segments sensitive to costs and to the enhanced consumer experience that digital delivery and distribution afford.
From “A digital crack in banking’s business model”
Hmm, there ees a poblem