Last night, I watched a curious debate on the forthcoming West Bengal municipal elections thanks to the TV channel Star Ananda. A junior minister and an actor represented the Left in the programme. (One could say two actors; aren't ministers actors too?) The Trinamool Congress (TMC) was represented by theatre director Bratya Basu and artist Shubha Prasanna, and the Congress, by two middle-rung leaders, Nirbed Roy and Arunhabha Ghosh. The odd man out was Saifuddin Chowdhury, the former CPIM MP who has been in the wilderness for long.
In the long discussion frequently interrupted by longer commercial breaks, nothing was mentioned about what the parties would do if voted to run the municipalities. There was not even a word of praise or criticism of the present municipal boards.
Time wise, the debate was dominated by Shubha Prasanna who spoke in long, complex sentences and often flew off at a tangent. His relative naïveté and inexperience in political wrangling was exploited by the Congress duo who attacked the respected elderly painter with a vengeance. They had obviously come prepared with a strategy and stooped low to unsettle him. Some samples: “apni to paanch koti takar maal kamiechen” (“You’ve made five crore on the sly”); “he paints crows and behaves like one”. Shubha Prasanna swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker, lost his composure, and retaliated with equally wild allegations and personal attacks.
The Left representatives were better speakers, but their debating skills didn’t hide their woeful lack of substance. All they could say was that their rule should be perpetuated so that the anarchy of the 1970s didn’t return, as if the present anarchy is better than the anarchy of the past. The level of the political discourse was unimaginably abysmal.
The only person who talked sense and substance was Saifuddin Choudhury, although he hardly got any opportunity to speak. It was perhaps symbolic of Bengal today. Decency and reason be damned, street fighters rule the roost.
Despite their incoherence and lack of homework, the TMC duo at least spoke on behalf of the average citizen of Bengal crushed under a diabolical rule. They reflected the political reality of the time. The congressmen were often seen giggling and talking between themselves and made a mockery of the debate, quite literally. For more than an hour while I suffered them, they didn’t criticise the Left misrule once; it seemed their only objective is to prevent TMC coming to power.
In the assembly elections of 2006, the Left Front secured less than 50% of the popular votes in West Bengal, but won 235 seats as against the combined tally of 30 by all the opposition parties. In the parliamentary elections of 2009, the left was trounced by the united opposition. The left can win in the state only if the opposition is a divided house. It was expected that the Congress and the TMC would continue with the winning combination for the municipal elections too. But that was not to be.
Until hearing the debate I was not sure who broke the Congress-TMC alliance for the coming elections. I thank the two congressmen for removing all doubts in the matter.
Kolkata, 13 May 2010
Bengalis, scattered over two countries and elsewhere, are full of contradictions. They were never a martial race, but were at the forefront of violent struggles to dislodge the British, and later, during the Naxalite movement. Hindus and Muslims lived largely in peace over centuries there, but one of the worst communal riots in history happened in Bengal. Bengalis are often brilliant individually, but are collectively marginalised in most spheres.
This blog is an attempt to understand the people and their mind.