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  Bengal 2016: Real paribartan

Bengal 2016: Real paribartan

Published : May 3, 2016, 7:07 am IST
Updated : May 3, 2016, 7:07 am IST

Turning the politician into a hero so larger-than-life is a habit to which West Bengal has been addicted for as long as memory serves.

Turning the politician into a hero so larger-than-life is a habit to which West Bengal has been addicted for as long as memory serves. Deification, surrender, worship of saints and sinners has been the norm. Leaders have been put on pedestals and voters have turned a blind eye to their absurdities, excesses and venalities.

It was easy to con the voter into believing that “Maa, Mati, Manush” was not a meaningless jumble of words; that it meant what Mamata Banerjee quoted often, “for the people, by the people, of the people”, till she became chief minister and it turned into a government for her people, by her people and of her people. It was so because voters needed to believe in something; wanted to entrust their future and their lives to someone and recklessly revert to childish dependence.

It mimicked the way in which voters hung on to the idea of the “Communist Party” long after it had changed from the small, disciplined, austere and idealistic cadre-based party into a mass outfit which harboured all sorts of people, covered up the excesses and trespasses of its petty leaders and district satraps, forgave the unforgivable and overlooked corruption and abuse of power. Then in infantile rage, the voter decided to throw out the Communists and bring in paribartan, in the hope that common man’s concerns would be addressed by a common man’s leader.

In 2016, West Bengal’s age of innocence is over. No one believes in heroic leaders anymore. No one thinks a politician will be the redeemer, come to release people from the oppressions of a ruling regime. In 2016, there is no blind faith. There are, however, ordinary, genuinely ordinary people who have come out and asserted their right to vote, to participate, to choose and to live. The fear of the goon gang that made women cower, men run away and youth turn apathetic has not ended, but it is in retreat. Whether it is decisively in retreat is impossible to predict, but for the moment the ebbing away of the crippling paralysis that gripped West Bengal for five years of the Trinamul Congress government and the inertia of the past 20 years is all too evident.

There is a new-found self-reliance, an unintended consequence of Ms Banerjee’s reign as chief minister. In 2016, there is Debashree Ghosh, a young mother who defiantly went out to vote under police protection in Halishahar, Hooghly district, on April 25, after she, her child and her father were beaten up inside their home the night before polling by Trinamul Congress strongmen. There is Mala Chalak, a voter in rural Jamalpur constituency in Burdwan district, who turned around and dared the Trinamul Congress gang that had threatened, pushed and then ordered her to turn back instead of voting, to “Just try it.” There is Shibhu Das and his young wife, Tultul, who went to the polling station under armed escort, after the goons broke both his arms and beat up his wife. There is Tahidul Islam, Sheikh Fazl Haque, Dookhiram Dal, Khondonkar Ali Hussain and Nur Islam Mistri, who died to defend their vote and the right of other voters to freely choose.

These and hundreds of others, who have fearlessly asserted their right to vote even though the levels of threat, intimidation, violence and disruption have been the highest ever in any election in West Bengal and in the country, requiring the Election Commission to take extraordinary measures, are the heroes of 2016, the mascots of paribartan.

They, and not the politician dressed as the common man, took charge, not only of the election process, but of politics in West Bengal. Women like Mousumi Kayal and Tumpa Kayal of Kamduni were young, with no history of political activisim, and yet they challenged the chief minister over what happened to their friend — gangraped and murder. By branding their protest as machinations by Maoists and Marxists, out to tarnish her image, Mamata Banerjee turned them into icons; they became the face of resistance, the girls who lived next door became challengers to the oppressive ruling party, a niche that had once been the chief minister’s space in public imagination.

And people are checking out the leaders before making up their mind. At least the youth are. In their thousands they posted questions on Facebook for Ms Banerjee to answer during her live chat. She was asked, “What will you do for people looking for jobs ” The question really was, “I don’t want to work in the telebhaja (street side pakora) industry. How will I find a job ” During his Google hangout chat, Surya Kanta Mishra, CPI(M)’s state party boss and ardent architect of the Congress-Left alliance, was asked point blank, “Why should we trust you How do we know that you will not bring back the goons How do we know that employment will be merit based (this was with reference to the tortured history of school and college teachers appointments) ” Women asked him how he intended to end “Syndicate Raj ” (syndicates being the nom de plume for local mafia).

This election is not about ideologies. It’s about real paribartan. It’s about people making a choice about what they want and who is most likely to deliver in the way they want a government to work. Exit hero worship; enter hard-bitten voter.

The writer is a senior journalist in Kolkata