Ahare Bangla food festival: Public pacifier or developmental measure?

By Roshni Chakrabarty & Arnab Mitra

Kolkata: The Ahare Bangla food festival presented by the West Bengal government which took place in Kolkata’s Milan Mela grounds for a period of three days was more of a public pacifier and a way for the ruling Trinamool party to win over the people before the upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections, rather than a measure for industrial development.

The event which took place from October 31 to November 2 showcased major Bengali hospitality brands such as Tangerine, Oh Calcutta, 6 Ballygunge Place, and Bijoli Grill among others. There were a lot of dishes available, including many varieties of meat. Some of the dishes on offer included Govindobhog Fish Fry, Emu Hariyali, Quail roast, Tandoori rabbit and Turkey kebabs.

Panchali Kar, a Tata Consultancy Services employee, spoke to NewsGram at the festival. She admired the quality and variety of food but condemned the severe mismanagement. “There are such few coupon counters! The customers have to stand twice at the counters—once for getting the coupons, and then to get food on their plates. Some of the stalls don’t even have enough stoves, microwaves or man power required for a huge crowd like this.”

A cookery show was on the charts, conducted by the likes of Chef Shaun Kenworthy, Mayank Kulshreshtha, Sujit sinha, Joymalya Banerjee and Ashish Roy. Visitors could get cooking tips from here and, to know more about food, they could attend the panel discussion carried out by Nondan Bagchi, Anjan Chatterjee, Manjri Agarwal and other such renowned chefs. Qawwali, Sufi Gaan, Fakiri Gaan, Chhau Naach, Naatua Naach and Jhumur Naach made up the cultural additions to the event which kept the visitors entertained.

Fairs and festivals usually work at promoting businesses and artists or help bring in revenue directly. However the Ahare Bangla food festival neither promoted any smaller enterprises nor made a big statement. The glamour show hosted by the government was looked down upon by many as what Bengal needs right now is a large scale industrial development to create jobs for the huge population of unemployed.

West Bengal’s industrial situation holds a very bleak global picture in current times. Compared to the rest of the country, Bengal hasn’t undergone much industrial development over the years. The TATA Nano controversy in Singur in 2008 drove off any possibility of major investments in the state’s industrial sector.

The syndicate rule, rigorous practice of extortion, political infighting, ineffectiveness of the police force which has become puppets in the hands of political parties comprise some of the factors acting as the force driving away investors. In view of these, there are very little chances of Bengal reaching industrial heights anytime soon.

The government undertook several projects for the youth and women empowerment and to help provide them jobs. However these have failed miserably as with every passing year, thousands of graduates are churned out and the number of jobs remains limited. According to a TOI report, 54% of households in West Bengal have unemployed members, while over 113 million people are unemployed in the country.

Akhilesh Tiwari, Secretary of Fruit traders association, Kolkata, said, “If the political clashes in Bengal do not stop, if the Syndicate rule is not broken, then no improvement will come along in Bengal’s business sector. If we keep paying money to every single club that asks for it, we won’t be able to run our business anymore.” Howrah’s jute mills and various other industry belts face extortion issues which bring down business.

So, the question remains whether such food, dance or music festivals will do anything to improve the job situation in West Bengal, or whether such events are just a waste of tax money. The fundamental requirements for the development of industry and better business are good land policies and industrial friendly policies, and an atmosphere free from union clashes and political issues.

The government needs to implement Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) policies and develop Special economic zones (SEZ) to help create an environment which would prove beneficial for industries and businessmen who in turn would be interested to set up shop in Bengal. The red tape issues involving different parties and trade unions need to be removed as well. A good corporate culture needs to be promoted and a good industrial policy needs to be brought in so that the talented individuals of Bengal are able to provide for themselves.

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