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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 24, June 5, 2010

Triumph of Vox Populi


Thursday 10 June 2010, by SC


The gruesome act of sabotage leading to the derailment of the Howrah-Kurla Jnaneshwari Express that resulted in the death of around 150 persons while injuring about 200 near West Bengal’s Jhargram last Saturday, May 29, 2010, the UPA Government in its second tenure under the Sonia Gandhi-Manmohan Singh dispensation releasing a 68-page Report to the People, 2009-10, outlining its record over the past one year and highlighting the obvious success stories of UPA-II, and the startling outcome of the civic polls in West Bengal were the highlights of the last few days.

The train derailment, which was attributed to an act of sabotage, allegedly by the Maoists active in the area (although the Union Home Ministry initially declined to apportion blame on anyone pending detailed investigation), took place at the dead of night (between 1.15 am and 1.20 am on May 29). The derailment of the train might not have culminated in the kind of tragedy that eventually took place but for the fact that a goods train approaching from the other end tore into six of the derailed coaches. The site of the tragedy was Sardiha on the Kharagpur-Tatanagar section 134 km from Howrah. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram said the derailment appeared to be an act of sabotage but was not clear if explosives were used in the blast as suggested by Railway Minister and Trinamul Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee based on the train driver’s assertion.

This incident, which happened a day before the municipal elections in Kolkata and other parts of West Bengal, triggered heated debates in the State between the ruling Left Front and the Opposition. While DGP Bhupinder Singh laid the blame for whatever took place on the Maoists and the CPM lost no opportunity in putting up hoardings and posters in record time assailing the Maoists for the dastardly act, leading intellectuals of Kolkata publicly pointed the accusing finger at the CPM by underscoring that that party was the real beneficiary from the train disaster. Several individuals not associated with any group also asked a pertinent query: if indeed what happened was the handiwork of the Maoists, why should they resort to such an exercise that would clearly place Mamata Banerjee on the defensive, that is, in case there was any validity in the CPM’s charge of Mamata-Maoist collusion? Chidambaram maintained that the needle of suspicion pointed to the Maoists but this could be conclusively established by means of a thorough probe alone. Mamata called for a CBI inquiry which was finally rejected by the State Government (after appearing to be open to the idea at the outset); however, finally the Union Home Ministry invoked the Delhi Special Police Establishment (DSPE) Act, 1946 that empowers the Centre to call in the CBI without the concurrence of the State Government to order a CBI inquiry—but this came after Mamata’s Trinamul Congress was able to inflict a humiliating defeat on the Left Front in the civic polls.

The UPA-II’s official one-year report card was released by the Sonia-Manmohan team in the Capital on June 1 emphasising its well-known success stories like Right to Education as well as progress on the national Food Security Act and stressing on the government’s abiding commitment to the aam aadmi. At the same time it remained focussed on the growth curve of the last few years—from nine per cent in the four years preceding 2008-09 to a noteworthy 6.9 per cent that year, followed by a remarkable bounceback to 7.4 per cent in 2009-10, and patting his government on the back for this outstanding achievement, PM Manmohan Singh said: “The recovery of the Indian economy owes largely to the stimulus measures initiated by the government.” Sonia Gandhi as the UPA chairperson underlined that the government’s legislative agenda would continue to have, at its core, a “genuine concern for the well-being of the common man”, and reflect the “hopes and aspirations” of the ordinary people. However, the incessant rise in prices affecting the aam aadmi did not acquire the prominence it deserved while the Maoist problem took centrestage with the document saying nothing more than what the government has been declaring lately on the subject.

On foreign affairs the report warmly described the strategic partnership with Russia and mentioned the distance traversed by the US and India in implementing the civil nuclear deal (even if the liability bill’s passage in Parliament is currently being eagerly awaited by the authorities in Washington). It also gave considerable importance to the improvment of Indo-Bangladesh relations and the growing security and economic cooperation between the two countries as also New Delhi’s offer of a $ 1 billion credit line to Dhaka.

But by far the most significant development of the week was the landslide victory of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress in the West Bengal civic polls, especially in Kolkata (where it bagged 95 of the 141 wards thereby recording absolute majority in the city’s Corporation while the Left Front won a mere 33, that is, 42 less than what it had last time and the Congress secured a paltry 10, that is, a loss of five seats) thus forcing the LF in general and the CPM in particular to bite the dust. This was an unmistakable manifestation of the electorate’s desire for change in the political landscape of the State as witnessed in the past one year in the reuslts of the Lok Sabha polls, by-elections to the State Assembly and now the civic polls. The wave for change not only remains intact but is actually gathering increasing strength, speed and momentum. Otherwise despite the absence of any alliance between the Congress and Trinamul (primarily due to the shifting stance of the former at the seat-sharing talks) the latter could not have registered such a resounding success. The Congress-Trinamul combine has won 105 wards in Kolkata (in the Lok Sabha elections the Trinamul had secured majority in 119 wards but then it was in alliance with the Congress) which in itself is of extraordinary importance. The Left Front, especially the CPM, launched a virulent campaign against the Trinamul and its supremo with the CM characterising them as “ferociously violent” and even urging the BJP supporters not to back the party—but all these efforts failed to bear any fruit; these only exposed the total disorientation of those at the helm in the State. In effect the results again proved that the CPM stands indicted before the bar of public opinion in West Bengal for not only its misgovernance and maladministration but also its arrogance of power and complete indifference to the people’s problems. Thus in the civic polls in the districts outside Kolkata the Left could win in 17 municipalities whereas the Trinamul took control of 26 and Congress seven with the results being indecisive in 31 (the revived Trinamul-Congress combine is expected to exercise control over most of these 31 municipalities).

Several features of these elctions need to be brought out in sharp relief. First, in Kolkata the lacklustre five-year performance of the prevailing Left-run civic body (as compared to the previous five years under a non-Left dispensation) and the apathy of the mayor (in contrast to the far more active role played by his predecessor) were key factors in the metropolitan citizens’ alienation from the Left. Secondly, this public alienation from the Left was seen in the suburban areas as well or else the CPM would not have been routed in the civic bodies in many of its strongholds to the Trinamul. Thirdly, the corporate sector and the influential media under its control and supervision desperately tried to denigrate the Trinamul and Mamata in order to stall their advance while playing up Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s CPM and Pranab Mukherjee’s Congress. But their endeavours drew a blank before people’s power. Fourthly, the campaign by the CPM against the Trinamul by alluding to an imaginary Trinamul-Maoist collusion not only failed to cut any ice but actually backfired because while making such wild allegations the CPM did not care to display any sign of engaging in serious self-introspection following its severe drubbing in the Lok Sabha polls. Now it is too late—even if it goes for an image overhaul it would fail to carry conviction with the electorate in the State Assembly polls next year. The people are fed up with its behaviour, policies and practices over the years and determined to throw it out of power. This is what the civic poll results signify. It would be next to impossible to reverse this urge for change among all sections of inhabitants of West Bengal at a time when large segments within the CPM also share this aspiration for change.

Perhaps being out of power for some time would be a blessing in disguise for the CPM and its LF partners. In any case it would be a triumph of democracy over the ‘partycracy’ the CPM has meticulously practised all these years. The State civic body polls results (which too project the triumph of vox populi) have conveyed that unequivocal message to the country at large.

June 3 S.C.

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