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Mainstream, VOL LII, No 32, August 2, 2014


Saturday 2 August 2014, by Sunanda Sanyal


This article is essentially a commoner’s view —one who lacks specialist knowledge of Political Science, understands what works for him, and what doesn’t. The relationship between a politician and a commoner should be give and take. That must be the criterion of judgment, the commoner feels. Much as he admires the politicians who, sitting in TV channels, parry questions, he wants voting to be peaceful, for he cares about his safety. A commoner wants no booth jams, no motorbike brigade; no bribe attached to the ballot paper—absolutely no terror tactics by the ruling party.

A commoner belongs to civil society. He is a law-abiding person and seeks the rule of law, so that the ruling party cannot come to harm as far as he is concerned. He understands his own well-being. On this view, much as the Central Election Commission started off with a bang, they ended in a whimper. Vote fraud did take place. Vote fraud isn’t election, in the first place. It is heard in common parlance that the Commission was so scared of the BJP, as against the Congress party, that they took the steps they did. In the end they lost the rarest of a rare chance of justifying themselves as working to preserve democracy, while the polity is dying for democracy. The Trinamul Congress rigged the poll, in spite of the fact Mamata Banerjee raised the slogan dolotntro noy, gonotontro chai (want democracy, not partisanship). She confirms it in her books. In the one that I launched when the Book Fair used to be held near Calcutta’s Park Street. But the Commission failed.

An election makes us kings for a day. Before the day of voting, the candidates of all existing parties and individual candidates approach us and appeal for a vote. That is a pleasure in its own right; for they are going to be the mightiest once they come to power, because they can transfer and promote the police force. You have to take away this power. They indulge in corrupt practices and salt away money from India. Thanks to Kanimozhis, Suresh Kalamdis and A. Rajas, and the public are left with scams in abundance. According to Justice Bhagawati Prasad Banerjee, a Calcutta High Court judge, this is possible.

On top of it, voting is a great equaliser. The Constitution grants one vote to every adult, however high and mighty. It is unfortunate that some students opt for receiving training in rigging. All political parties provide it, in the nature of students’ union elections for univer-sities and colleges. In West Bengal, at least, most students hate politics, which has become the other name for dhandabaji (subterfuge). If what politicians are doing should be the criteria, the students’ unions are counter-productive. Rigging has a long history in West Bengal which I would discuss some time.

I attribute a lot of evil to rigging. Power easily goes to a Bengali head. But rigging has a long tradition in undivided Bengal: I will some time discuss it. I will write an article in this periodical. If the Mainstream, a periodical founded by Nikhil Chakravartty, has the courage to publish it, it will. Once before, it happened, when I submitted TradingCattle to Bangladesh, which did come out in Mainstream, the new editor having offered to do what is needed.

Once an existing political party comes to power, it acts like a Ravan. This becomes evident if you have taken account of the fact that Biman Bose refuses to resign. Biman Bose represents a phenomenon: he proves that unless a systemic change — that is, a change in leadership — occurs, how can the party concerned transform itself. That is why no reform is possible. For example, can Mamata change her stripes? The TMC has fired at the BJP workers at Sandeshkhali because they were celebrating their victory there.

Now that the new Modi Government, at the Centre, is in place, the civil society hopes, it will be different. The hopes are thanks to Swami Ramdev, Narendranath Damodardas Modi can repatriate the black money to India, pull down price rise, and give jobs to young men and women. As for the communalism he practised in Gujarat, it is good there are no signs as yet. In a word, the hope is that there will be no repeat of what Mamata Banerjee is doing in West Bengal.

All classes of people suffer as a result. I take the example of the “jhhee”-special train, which used to arrive at Ballygunge Station in South Calcutta. That has matured into desertion of women by their husbands. In Bengali society at least for the lower-class women, ayahs (au pairs, actually) for example, the husbands are their deserters. The late Amlan Datta, a former Vice-Chancellor of Viswabharati University, noticed it and he warned against it. Nothing happened. This has now become a trend. It seems likely as many as three-fourths of the lower class women are deserted.

The political culture of the nation is to blame. An election round the corner seemed to change it. Great expectations were raised in West Bengal when V.S. Sampat flew the Central Election Commission’s staff. It appeared how seriously the Commission took this parliamentary election. A news-channel based in Kolkata discussed the Constitution-makers having made a ‘reservoir’ of power. It all began with the very first phase of the election.

Rigging started, thanks to Sudhir Rakesh, an IAS officer, deputed by the Central Election Commission with high powers, as an election observer to West Bengal. But he miserably failed. A respected newspaper, The Telegraph, reported that Sudhir Rakesh was absent for three consecutive days when the election was on in the third phase. The Opposition claims, unless he had favoured the ruling party, Trinamul Congress, the Trinamul workers could not have got ready with revolvers and bombs.

Besides, why did he say at 2 pm, three hours before the election was going to finish, that the election was “free, fair and peaceful”. Did he mean it would be all right if the Trinamul workers brandished swords, daggers and revolvers? In the third phase of the election, the Central Election Commission being inactive, the voters had to fend for themselves. For example, at Arambag, where the District Magistrate was unhelpful, a repeat of the CPI-M candidate Anil Basu happened. Anil Bose, a CPI-M candidate, won. He made faces at Mamata Banerjee, practically describing Mamata as a prostitute. Eventually, he was turned out of the CPI-M, not because of the result achieved (100 per cent of the votes polled), but because of a quarrel with Biman Bose.

This shows that the party leaders are inimical to political reform. That is, the existing parties will not change to a point where they can try to set up democracy. She sought election from the Bhawanipur constituency, which she had won by over 34,000 votes. After having taken the oath, she entered the Writer’s Building at the head of a long procession. Mamata Banerjee, the present Chief Minister, had the opportunity to avoid autocracy, and set up democracy. That she has failed nevertheless proves that one who goes to Lanka acts like a Ravan. That is, an unreformed party will act like an oppressor if it comes to power.

A look at the Trinamul Congress will prove my point. The Trinamul Congress, an offshoot of the Congress, which is no better, did emerge with extreme popularity with the masses. Together with Debabrata Banerjee, a former IAS officer, who is now an MP of the Trinamul Congress, I campaigned in the Bhawanipur constituency for Mamata Banerjee, who makes no bones about the fact the she rules the party with an autocratic hand. Autocracy does not conform to democracy, even though her Ministers cannot speak for two minutes without praising her to high heavens.

Mamata did indeed enjoy the support of the masses; otherwise she couldn’t have entered the Writer’s Building with masses following her. Mamata has squandered the chance of a lifetime. The upshot: a stooge has replaced the Human Rights Commissioner. An Ayla has struck West Bengal. When will men and women climb the top branch of a tree and live together with snakes and porcupines?

Sunanda Sanyal is a leading intellectual figure in present-day West Bengal.

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