Monday, May 2, 2011

What People of Bengal Think as Bengal Goes through Elections

On my way home from Calcutta airport by taxi, I asked the driver who, he thought, would form the next government in Bengal. “Didi,” he replied. “Does the Left not have any chance of returning this time?” I pursued, trying to provoke him.

“In their 35 years they have not done much. People are leaving the state for economic opportunities. People are fed up with them.” “But will Didi be able to maintain peace?” I continued. “Leftists are also guilty of destroying peace.”

After a while the taxi made a rattling sound and the driver drew it up at the corner of the road. I boarded another taxi and asked the driver who would win the elections this time. He got a little startled by my asking and hesitantly said, “Didi."

West Bengal is going through a historic election where Left, a coalition of left parties which came to power in 1977, might see its 35 years of unbroken stint in power brought to an end by TMC (whose leader is popularly known as Didi), which together with the Congress is the Left’s opposition in Bengal. The election has a global significance as Bengal is among the very few places where you still have a Left government.

Neither of the sides (govt and opposition) is leaving anything to chance. The TMC claims the Left hasn’t done anything expect oppressing people and pushing the State back. So there is a yearning for paribartan (change) among the people.

On the other hand, the Left is going to the people on a note of apology admitting that it has made some mistakes and if given a chance would like to rectify them. The Left alleges that, if brought to power, the TMC would create chaos and confusion in the state.

Verbal exchanges taking place between the government and opposition are adding to the atmosphere. There is nothing new to verbal exhanges between two contesting parties, but here every attack and counter attack flying back and forth seems to be springing from a deep well of loathing for each other.

The fight also has a cultural aspect. The Left in Bengal represents a high-brow cultural space long monopolised by culture snobs who see TMC as challenging it and trying to gatecrash into it, diluting its exclusivity. Budhadeb (Bengal CM) and the leftists in general belong to this hallowed zone and Mamta (TMC chief also known as Didi), being from a lower-middle class background, doesn't.

The Left’s barbs are mostly aimed at the TMC’s low-browism. To counter the Left’s culture attacks, the TMC is claiming to have support of culture-elites (writers, directors, etc) whose views often shape public opinion in Bengal.

But what do ordinary voters think?

There are two kinds of Left enthusiasts: one is the card-holding members and another is the culture-loving snobs. Both types claim the Left will come back again but their self-righteous anger also give away their doubt about their prophesy.  Among them are mainly state government employees.

People with less cultural pretentions, however, display little doubt that the TMC would form the government but they also admit that no one knows what would follow once the TMC comes to power.  They say at least Left for all its flaws is a party of educated ideologues while the TMC is a party patched together with street rag tags. These are mainly ones working in private companies.

There is another stream of thought being given by people with leftist leanings but a rational bent of mind. They suggest if you really want to destroy the TMC, you should give them an exposure to power for sometime. And at the same time, it will not harm the Left to be in opposition so that after being in power for 35 long years, they get an opportunity to introspect and probably come back stronger.

For the uninitiated, it can all become very confusing.

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