A city overburdened with the past, jaded by the stagnancy of the present and hoping to spread its wings in the future. Kolkata, a city many would say is immersed in a time warp of its very own. But whether one is a citizen or just a casual observer, it is hard to avoid the distinct charms of the city of joy. The warmth of the people, the passion they exudes in their views and opinions. Elections, as we all know are essentially a celebration of democracy. Very few lap up this celebration more eagerly than people of Bengal. Almost three years past the historic paribartan (change) in state government, the land of michils (processions) and meetings is all set for an interesting battle in the upcoming elections.
Politics in Bengal
Unlike other cities, politics is not a hated term here. Far shy from the politically aloof citizenry of South Delhi and South Mumbai, the DNA of the city in particular and Bengal in general breathes politics. From extreme left to the extreme right, all can have a say in the numerous addas that people strike up in the cha stalls, university canteens or bus stops. The quintessential parar roker adda (chitchat in nooks and corners of the city) may be a thing of the past but still people enjoy a whole hearty round of debate over hot cuppa. It’s not only politics though. From sporting superstars to cultural icons, nobody is a holy cow when the debates gain stream. Perfect strangers can be seen to debate vociferously over Dhoni vs Sourav, Uttam vs Soumitra or Bangal vs Ghoti. But nothing divides and unites Bengalis like politics does. The new-age debates have now shifted to Facebook walls and Twitter feeds. It is a common sight to see Comrades from New Jersey emphasising on the importance of socialism to commoner of Nadia. One may leave the city for better opportunities elsewhere but the soul of the city lingers on. Hence the passionate debates. Terms like bango banchona ( Bengal being deprived due to some sinister designs) linger on the political space.
This election is no different. In a sense, Bengal politics is a bit different from the mainstream national parties. The opinion polls and political pundits seems to suggest that the NDA alliance with Modi as PM is likely to be close to majority in the centre. But in the land of Tagore, BJP is a negligible force. The main fight here will be between Communist Party of India led Left Front versus the ruling Trinamool Congress. Since inception of TMC in 1998, this is the first time the Mamata Banerjee led party is going alone in polls. It is a huge political gambit, and the possible split of anti-left votes can give the red party a backdoor entry into the political limelight. But make no mistake; simpleton didi is a wily politician. She is banking on the diminishing clout of the left force which has been particularly been exposed in the Panchayat Elections last year. It is also the first major elections after the paribartan in 2011, where the Left Front’s juggernaut of 34 years was stopped by the Mamata Tsunami.
Growing Influence of Mamata
There has been sustained campaign in media outlets of the growing disillusionment about the government among the urban elites. There have been instances where the state government seems to have taken hard stance on the dissenters giving detractors a field day. In a few cases, the government machinery has received flak from the courts. But whether this perceived fall of popularity will help in the elections is a matter of much debate. More importantly, does the Left continue to have hold over its dedicated foot soldiers and grass root leaders, is also a matter open to speculation. Even in a sharply ideologically divided state like Bengal there have been shift in party allegiance from the left to right. The Rajya Sabha polls were a prime example when 5 MLAs switched side in the end to ensure a win for the TMC candidate. The left though believes that its core base or ideological leanings have not eroded. The money power of the ruling party has weaned away some.
Mamata Banerjee is looking to increase her tally significantly from 19 of 2009 to play a decisive role in national politics. Not as a rabble rouser like her earlier stints but as a possible king maker. Extension of olive leaf to Jayalalitha and getting Anna by her side is an indicator to that. Not only does she want TMC to prosper but she also wants to end Left Front’s clout in the political circle. Her party cadres though hope that this time around, she may even get the top job in a badly hung parliament.
Hotting up Scenario
In a way the elections will provide interesting pointers to the future dynamics of alliances leading up to the 2016 Assembly Elections. If TMC can cruise through this elections, Mamata Banerjee will most likely to maintain her ekla chalo stance in the future. Else, she may well have to tie up with one of the national parties. For the left it’s about building up from the scratch, after the severe drubbing they received in the last assembly polls. It will like to cut its losses as much as they can from the 14 seats it got last elections. The Congress seems to be in choppy water though emboldened by an inspiring change in leadership. It’s aim is to somehow maintain political significance outside couple of districts in Central and North Bengal. The BJP beckons, it’s time for vote rango (election reverie) in Bango to heat up.