“Change” in West Bengal: Where are we headed?

The results of the 15th General Elections threw up quite a number of shocks and surprises, which were decisive in the victory of the incumbent Congress government. One of these was the debacle of the CPI(M) in West Bengal, that has been ruling this state for over three decades now. For most political observers, change was imminent in West Bengal. But a change, this radical was not something that even the experts predicted. Judging by the number of seats won and lost in these elections, it is certain that the Trinamool-Congress combine will create history in 2011, winning the West Bengal State Assembly Elections by a huge margin.

However, this predicted victory is only one of the outcomes of the results of the 15th General Elections. Anybody scanning the daily newspapers post-elections will concur that politics in this state is heading towards doom and decay, unless a flash of maturity improves the state affairs.

The Trinamool, hitherto a minority here, has acquired a new-found confidence and will do anything to bring change in the government as soon as it can. Mamata Banerjee took no time in making it implicitly clear that she will press the Home Ministry to consider invoking Article 356 in the state, thus paving the path for her ultimate victory. When that did not happen, she has left no stone unturned in asserting time and again, that she is the new boss now, placing herself as a figure even superior to that of the Chief Minister. The CPI (M), on the other hand, is reluctant to accommodate the tactics of accommodative politics. In stretching itself in two opposite directions: holding onto its weakened thread of political clout, and simultaneously appeasing the people who can be its ultimate savior, has stretched itself too far. In the dichotomy and compromising predicament that CPI (M) has found itself in, governance and legitimacy in Bengal has been completely wiped out.

One may elucidate by a few instances. Post “Aila”, there has been tremendous furor and confusion in the state regarding the government’s role in providing relief to the victims of the cyclone, particularly in the Sunderbans. The cacophony was exaggerated by Trinamool’s claims that it alone could handle the situation by asking the centre for a grant of 150 crores, that would be administered directly to the villages without passing through the State’s Financial Ministry. In this clear violation of political norms and conventions, it sought to impose upon the people an extra-constitutional government and the condition of the victims and any collective effort to ease their plight was lost. Again, law and order in West Bengal has been in a state of complete disarray with the cadre of the two parties clashing with one another, with or without reason, wiping each other in the districts in haste and hatred. Medinipur, Khejuri, North and South 24 Parganas are only a few districts where bloodshed is the device to assert one’s political stronghold. Even within the city, minor incidents are being used to spark off violence, bringing civility to a standstill. Frequent power cuts and college admissions have become the grounds on which these two parties are exploiting and maneuvering citizens’ sentiments to their own political advantage. Today, there is no responsible governance and no responsible opposition. Instead what one finds in West Bengal today is the desperation of the Trinamool to see its leader as Chief Minister by legitimate or illegitimate means, and the desperation of CPI (M) to hold on to its seats by any means.

The State is not only witnessing a crisis of governance, but also a crisis of leadership. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the “progressive” Communist Chief Minister has been reduced to a mute pawn, spectator to his own downfall. People here, though appreciative of thle “change” from Communism to Congress-ism, are skeptical of the kind of leadership the new regime will throw up. Trinamool is essentially a one-(wo)man army, with Ms. Banerjee’s insecurity for sharing power or credit and her fickle political affiliations being known to everybody. It is a shame to think that for a State which was once the watershed of landmark political ideals and movements, politics is, or will be reduced from politics of the politburo to politics of one personality.

In this apparent gloom that lurks upon West Bengal, the only solution for the civil society and the media is to remain vigilant and responsible, not being consumed by any political activity that is violent, disturbing or driven only by the blind desire to acquire power. One must judge each party and its leaders by the relevance of the issues they seek to uphold, and their performance in terms of constitutional governance. Any change or transition must be legitimate and peaceful, reflecting the changing realities and not perceptions created in our minds by the sanction of force or populism.

Shruti Agarwal

[Image source:http://cdn.wn.com/o25/ph//2009/05/16/e9152f690f72509a55a29d9df1b50e05-grande.jpg]