None more than Mamata Banerjee herself will be expected to realise the enormity of the challenges awaiting her as West Bengal's next Chief Minister. The times of rhetoric are over; delivering on the high level of expectations only accentuated by the overwhelming mandate given to her by the people of the State — and under the scrutinising gaze of a political dispensation used to being in power for nearly 34 years — makes her task all the more formidable.
Ms. Banerjee has, needless to say, her work cut out for her. Among the first test of her abilities in governance will be, with little doubt, how she clamps down on violence that has already claimed lives in different parts of the State. It threatens to spread to new areas as a backlash to the shifts at the local levels in the balance of power.
Already in evidence are old political scores being settled and spectre of reprisals looms large even as the echoes of the Trinamool Congress chief's pre-poll refrain of badal (change), not badla (revenge) are still audible.
If Ms. Banerjee's reminder, laced with caution to her party's 184 newly elected legislators at her first meeting with them on Sunday that people had taught the Communist Party of India (Marxist) a lesson by rejecting it for its alleged atrocities on them, is any indication of her intentions, she seems to have started on the right foot without even waiting to assume office.
Known for her politics that has been moulded around the agitation mode while leading the charge against the Left all these years, it would certainly call for more than just a change in persona to prove her mettle in her new role as head of government.
Under the scanner will be Ms. Banerjee living up to her promise of solving “within three months” the political crisis brewing for long in the hills of Darjeeling as well that of releasing those she has been claiming were arrested on false charges of being associated with Maoists in the Jangal Mahal area in the southwest of the State.
The electoral outcome in the hills is being perceived by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha (GJM) as an endorsement of its demand for separation from West Bengal — a viewpoint that will stare Ms. Banerjee's new government in the face even as the GJM prepares to take forward its “Gorkhaland” movement.
How she will go about confronting the left-wing extremists after having been a strong advocate of withdrawal of Central forces engaged in the on-going security operations against them will be watched closely, among others, by the Centre in which her party is part of, and which had to put up with her views on the matter, not without some embarrassment.
Ms. Banerjee has already made it clear to her party colleagues that the police administration should be allowed to function without interference. But fresh in public memory is her criticism of a section of it for having functioned in a partisan manner all these years and her allegations of CPI(M) activists being inducted into it.
Questions whether this suggests some overhauling of the police force, perhaps over time, as the new ministry gets down to the business of governance have already started doing the rounds in the corridors of power. Then there are the State employees, a very large section of whom owe their allegiance to the CPI(M)-affiliated State Co-ordination Committee whose strength in mere membership is as formidable as is its presence in the different departments of government; an organisation which has been accused by Ms. Banerjee of having contributed to the destruction of the work culture. How well the new Chief Minister will be able to cope with the legacy of financial bankruptcy that she has alleged previous governments have pushed the State into will depend largely on the size of assistance the Centre is willing to offer her. She has already had talks about a special economic package — one that is expected to be both forthcoming and generous.
For, after all, the Congress owes her much more than just the electoral achievements of the alliance: it will have more than the double the number of MLAs in the next Assembly than it had.