The Beginning of the End of The Most Corrosive Political Regime that W. Bengal Has Ever Had







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I consider myself fairly apolitical. I view most politicians, especially almost all Indian politicians with cynicism and a degree of contempt that most of them deserve. Given a choice, I would shun discussions and debates on Indian politics, counterproductive and a waste of time as they would prove to be, mostly.

Having witnessed the CPM's and the Left Front's chaotic and  anarchic ascent to power during my student days in Calcutta and having seen and heard, directly and indirectly, the immense amount of problems and misery that  they have brought on the people of W. Bengal (except their cadres) and Calcutta (Kolkata) for over three decades now, I can't quite be so impassive and apathetic about them.

While I seldom blog about Indian politics, I find that I have done so twice about W. Bengal politics and the insidious cancer that has been spreading its tentacles throughout the state. The first of these was over 2 years back, when, while on a visit to Kolkata, I was exposed to the Rizwanur Rahman episode and the surge of public anger against the administration that spontaneously erupted, helped in no small measure by the local media. I had put down my feelings about the state of affairs and about the extended CPM rule in a somewhat impassioned blog entry which still remains relevant. The link is given below and the piece is contained in this blog itself.


The second was more recent, when, after the demise of Jyoti Basu, I came across some pieces by people who ostensibly had little understanding of political realities, hard facts and the travails of people in W. Bengal under the gross misrule of Basu and his cohorts, bestowing on him posthumously the status of a visionary and a legendary leader who unfortunately missed out on becoming the P.M. of India. The link to that piece is given below and the piece itself figures earlier in this blog.


For years now,  many aspects concerned with day-to-day living and economic parameters in W. Bengal and Kolkata have been brought down to an unprecedented all-time low largely due to three decades of misrule and planned, deliberate infiltration and subversion of organizations & institutions for self-perpetuation purposes by the prime ruling political party, the CPM. If the state and its people are not to be doomed forever, change of any kind is urgently called for.

Under such circumstances, any change which happens, while far from ideal, can only be for the better. When one has touched rock bottom, the only way is up. I hold no brief for Mamata ‘Didi’ Banerjee. I have no delusions about her being a transformational figure and  someone who has her priorities all worked out. Neither am I labouring under any illusions that she is an administrator par excellence or even someone who is intellectually well endowed to find solutions to the multifarious problems which the state is beset with currently. If she has to perform any of these roles with some degree of success ,she needs to surround herself with the right set of advisors and lend them her ears consistently. However in a state where other political alternatives have sadly disintegrated over the years or failed to come up at all – I refer to the Congress and the BJP respectively – she offers the only viable alternative for change.

Given a scenario where the Left front, particularly the CPM, has a virtual stranglehold on all state machinery, various institutions, the police, the judiciary (the myth about impartial, honest judges is precisely that - a myth) and a good no. of panchayats (local elected administration bodies mainly for rural areas), thinking that someone can wage a ‘fair’ fight and oust the CPM from the seats of power that they have warmed for over 3 decades now is an utopian, idealistic thought hardly rooted in reality. One has to fight fire with fire and wage a battle where the end justifies most means. And that is what 'Didi' has precisely been doing, though she has suffered unexpected setbacks in the past owing to her political immaturity and impulsiveness. Hopefully she would have learnt from her many mistakes in the past.

Political parties, more so in India, are by definition not clean and the same holds for the Trinamool Congress, the party she founded and heads. However, despite many strenuous efforts and innuendoes, the Reds and their occasional bed-partners of convenience, the Congress, have not been able to make charges of personal corruption against her, stick. In fact, in a scenario where most politicians have tainted images, she has a fairly clean one. She has mellowed and matured with age and projects a rather different public image from her fire-breathing, rabble rousing persona that was so prominent during her younger days. During those days she was given to bouts of impulsiveness and immaturity which turned out to be, in a number of instances, politically suicidal.

She has picked up her fair share of political freeloaders and liabilities along the way. One  such instance is Kabir Suman (Suman Chattopadhyay), a singer and self-proclaimed poet with a rather dubious past. Inducting him into the party and getting him elected as an MP is an example of Mamata Banerjee’s immature and impulsive streak that I have alluded to earlier. However when none of the major political parties are capable of properly vetting candidates and weeding out the venal and the unsuitable ones, I guess she can’t be wholly blamed for having her share of ‘black sheeps’ in her party and among her MPs in Parliament. She should thank her lucky stars that Kabir Suman has unmasked himself and shown his true colours sooner rather than later.

The results of the recently concluded municipal elections in Kolkata and W. Bengal have assumed added significance in view of the growing disenchantment with the Left Front and the CPM that has been evident for some time. After her triumph in the Parliament elections sometime back, followed by major successes in panchayat elections and assembly by-elections, the results of the municipal elections, which have been heavily touted as the 'semi-finals' leading up to the assembly elections round the corner, are a continuation of the people's verdict for a change. This is how they look like:
DescriptionTMC (Trinamool Congress)SwingLeft Front (primarily CPM)Swing
Kolkata Municipal Corp. (KMC)95+5333-42
Other Municipalities in W.B. (total 80, excluding Kolkata)33+2218-36

(N.B. The Congress which had decided to go it alone, is a poor third in both instances and hence its figures have not been reflected above.)

Considering that the Left Front held a large number of municipalities all over West Bengal and controlled the Kolkata M.C. as well and considering that Mamata Banerjee's party, TMC, refused to enter into an alliance with the Congress this time around, unlike during the Parliament elections which they contested as an alliance, the message is crystal clear. The people of Kolkata and also of W. Bengal have decided to end their dalliance with the Reds for now and are keen to sweep them into Tolly's Nullah, the stinking, filth choked canal which branches off from the river Ganga and flows through a good part of the city.

The Indian Communists, past masters at doublespeak and obfuscation have been desperately trying to put up a brave face and bullshit their way out of this disaster. The various explanations trotted out include patently specious ones like having won in a larger no. of wards compared to the Parliamentary elections (sure, let's compare apples and pumpkins too!) and having arrested and reversed the declining trend evident for some time (anyone with any grounding in statistics can infer that the swing figures and percentages tell a different story; add to that the fact that the anti Left Front votes this time around have been split between the TMC and the Congress and the magnitude of the disaster for the Reds, if anything, is greater than was evident during the Parliamentary elections a year earlier). It is also amusing to see the Communists, who have consistently shown scant regard for the Constitution and fair practices, now taking refuge behind Constitutional provisions and barking like mongrels on the run that it is the prerogative of the state government to decide when elections will be held. Anyone tell them yet, "Time's up, baby"?
The beginning of the end is clearly visible now. One only hopes that Mamata Banerjee and the TMC now play the endgame astutely enough to finally make W. Bengal and Kolkata a Red-free zone at least for some time. The transition, when it happens, will not be either a smooth or an easy one. The W. Bengal Communists, who have used a variety of means and tricks to subvert healthy democratic processes and consolidate their hold on all the levers of power, will not walk away easily. Massive disruptions, chaos and bloodletting is more than likely through their cadres and the institutions that they have systematically infiltrated and subverted over the years. The people of W. Bengal and Kolkata who have had to put up with a lame-duck State Govt. for over a year now, can hardly look forward to peace, serenity and productive times in the months ahead. But then, having chosen to flirt with the Communists for years, they should be prepared for the misery which they will be inevitably subjected to when they pass on the message  to the Comrades that the time has come to part. After all, as Castro once allegedly barked at someone who thought he was being helpful by suggesting a set of plans to lift the masses in Cuba above the poverty line: "Who the hell is going to vote for us in that case?"

 Supplemental content added in July 2010

The educated Bengali 'bhadralok' and the so-called intelligentsia, got it totally wrong when the Marxists stormed into power during the late 60s. The average Bengali 'bhadralok or 'bhadramahila' is an utterly self-serving, pusillanimous creature, lily-livered, lacking the courage of his or her convictions. In most cases, if asked to stand up and fight for something, he or she would simply cut and run. It also so happens that this category has generally been reduced to a somewhat insignificant minority over the decades and has therefore ceased to matter.

The Communists figured this out long back and worked out a strategy for coming to power which simply bypassed or ignored this category altogether. And, from an objective-fulfillment point of view, they were dead right! It is of course a different matter that large numbers belonging to this category, realizing that they were getting increasingly marginalized, later decided to prostrate themselves before the people in power, in an effort to have some crumbs thrown their way. (I know I would be raising quite a few hackles through these observations. I have however reached a stage in life when I feel I could do without the hypocrisy and the double-talk that some from my generation still love to indulge in).

People from other states, who came into W. Bengal at some point in time or have been residing in this state for long are primarily here to earn a living. After their initial discomfiture and misgiving, a whole lot of businesspersons established their zone of comfort with the Marxists. Political organizations cannot live on thin air and despite whatever public posturings may be done to the contrary, as Bill Clinton once so aptly said, 'It's all about the economy, stupid'. It therefore stands to reason that such people have no firm political convictions and would eventually side with whoever they discover to be more amenable towards helping them meet their core objectives.

With some twists and variations, history is about to repeat itself. I just happened to see this item in 'The Telegraph' [ Link ], which gives me a sense of déjà vu. The scenario portrayed, seems quite akin to some of the 'Left Front / CPM rallies' that I recall from my teens. The absolute numbers are larger, but that can possibly be attributed to population growth and related factors. Sure, 'rent-a-crowd' techniques are in evidence here. But anyone who thinks that just such techniques can build up to these numbers, is either trying to delude himself or sadly off the mark. That wasn't the sole factor responsible for the numbers witnessed during the mammoth rallies of the Marxists in the sixties and seventies. And it isn't the only factor now, in this build-up that Kolkatans have recently witnessed again.

Whether you or I like it or not, whether it inconveniences us or not, it is a cold fact in present-day W.Bengal politics that fire can only be fought with fire. Similarly, whether one agrees with her brand of politics or not, it is also a fact of life that since the rise of Jyoti Basu in the 1960s, there has not been another major personality and transformational figure in W. Bengal politics like Mamata Banerjee during the last 4 decades or so of Bengal politics. Basu had the advantage of an upper middle class family background, a good education, a well-organized party and the support of colleagues (like Promode Dasgupta) who had great political shrewdness and stature too. Objectively, Mamata's achievements are greater because she has risen to where she is today without many of those attributes or advantages and without an organized and functioning party machinery  to count on initially (in fact she founded her party, TMC, after breaking away from the Congress in the nineties and then built it up virtually singlehandedly).

W. Bengal is in the midst of another major upheaval and churn and what this portends for the future is anybody's guess.Politicians and political parties behave quite differently when in power and out of it and possibly learning from the mistakes of the CPM and heeding advice from her ally of the moment, the Congress, she promises to focus on development, not destruction [ Link ]. The people of W. Bengal wait and watch with bated breaths.

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