The article posted on my blog on 3 May, "... voting for West Bengal" was published by the Statesman on 8 May. So far, 24 friends / acquaintances have rung up or sent mails to say they have read the article. Of them, 20 have broadly concurred with my views. An elderly gentleman even said, 'I was confused about what to do. Your article has helped me make up my mind.' Three close friends strongly disagree with me and say everyone ought to vote for the Left. A friend, Uma Sankar has a different take. He says:
Though I agree with what all you said about the elections and the parties, your voting for the Trinamul somehow creates a very repulsive feeling in my stomach. You probably have no third choice as we have in AP.
Lok Satta, a new party led by one Jayaprakash Narayan, offers us an alternative to traditional politics; his is the only sane voice in the insane political scene of our state. He may not win many seats but he did make his presence felt and he kindled a ray of hope in us that politics could be different, decent and honest - and one doesn't have to have tons of money or muscle power or loud/vulgar throat to enter the political scene. In WB, you don't have such choice.
Yes indeed, we don't have a choice!
This sample survey of 24 readers, if one may call it so, is grossly inaccurate. I am sure there is a much higher percentage of people who, like Uma Sankar, think that West Bengal needs a change, but the alternative is unacceptable. (Earlier, Tanmoy and Anirban expressed the same opinion.) They cannot root for either team in this morbid game.
This article is an attempt to address their concerns. Given below are the perceived problems about the alternative in italics, followed by my comments.
I. The charges against Mamata Banerjee and her team
1. Either she doesn't have a cogent set of policies or she deliberately acts for political expediency without any scruples. For example, she competes with the Left in cheap populism, be it pandering to the "Muslim vote bank", or the unbridled menace of auto-rickshaws, or hawkers taking over the footpaths of Kolkata. "To this day, we have not heard one intelligent word from her on how she would want the country, leave alone West Bengal, run" - Ravindra Kumar in the Statesman, 10 May 2009.
2. She is a megalomaniac; her politics pivots around herself. That is perhaps the reason why no senior leader has ever stuck with her. She hasn't been able to build a party. Her choice of candidates (and cronies) has mostly been terrible.
3. TMC is a political outfit of undisciplined individuals. Their leaders themselves - and not their followers - broke furniture in West Bengal Assembley.
4. As an MP or central minister, her record is poor.
5. She is opportunistic; has switched between NDA and UPA for short-term gains. She might do so again and bring the BJP into West Bengal.
I agree. The charges stick. There is not a murmur of doubt about it.
However, I would like to ask ourselves, that is, the Net-savvy, English speaking people, is our opposition only because of her political shortcomings? Would we damn her so emphatically if she were "from a higher social station", studied at Miranda House or JNU, and spoke impeccable English like Mr. Prakash Karat? Isn't our opposition to Mamata similar to the English language press's damnation of Mayavati? (The last point has been argued beautifully by Mr. Suvro Chatterjee on his blog.)
If high-class, "cultured" leaders like Indira and Rajiv Gandhi, Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and Jyoti Basu have brought us to this pass, no one has any right to sneer at Mamata or Mayavati. On the contrary, in a way, we should hail their ascent as a triumph of our democracy.
As regards bringing the BJP into West Bengal, in a liberal democracy, everyone has a right to propagate their ideology. If an ideology is accepted by the masses, one can only fight against it politically. (I personally think the BJP is unlikely to succeed in WB, but that is a different matter.)
II. The alternative is unacceptable
The Left has harmed us immensely. But the concern is who we are going to hand over the reign. Are they suited for the job? Is this the alternative we are all looking for? We need change, but the alternative is unacceptable.
In an article in the Ananda Bazar Patrika on 5 May 2009, Kalyan Sanyal says:
"In the Lok Sabha election of 1977, the common people of India voted silently to overturn the all-powerful emergency-raj. That day, all over the world, people who believed in democracy saluted them. What were the issues in that election? Were they economics or foreign policy? No, the people voted against the suffocating two-and-a-half year regime of terror and humiliation. They brought to power Jansangh and the Syndicate Congress masquerading as the Janata Party. At times, history comes to a crossroad where the question of how acceptable the alternative is becomes irrelevant. The ambivalence "we don't want the ruling party, but the alternative is unacceptable" has kept this aggressive, hegemonic ruling party in power for 30 years." (Translation mine.)
If we continue to live in that ambivalent state, they will remain in power for another 30 years. Can you imagine what will happen if this metastasis continues for another 30 years?
III. A weak party and its incompetent leaders
If a party is not strong, how can we hope they would work for our benefit? Isn't that the reason we don't vote for independent candidates? If the undisciplined and incompetent opposition is voted in, we will have jumped from frying pan to fire.
I think there is a big fallacy in this argument.
If the CPI M has ruined West Bengal so successfully, it is precisely because of their strong organization. This party depends on its huge army of workers and supporters to win elections. In turn, they have to be kept happy, wined and dined. Therefore, party members and their friends get precedence over others for jobs and anything that generates income: from cold stores to ration shops to supplying mid-day meals to school children. They also control the organizations of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and policemen.
This pernicious infiltration into all the organs of the state has had three effects: (a) A vast majority of the people are excluded, (b) mediocre people call the shots and competent individuals migrate outside the state to earn a living, and (c) "the party" becomes a parallel power structure that systematically undermines the state.
Besides, the Left has made our people lazy, arrogant and foul-mouthed. At every turn, we come across people who are rude and unnecessarily aggressive. It was bound to happen under leaders whose motto is: "Ladai, ladai, ladai chai, ladai kore banchte chai." (We want to go on fighting; we want to live by fighting.) It might take more than a generation to restore decency in our everyday transactions.
For this reason alone, cadre-based parties like the CPI M and the BJP are a threat to our democracy. A friend of mine, Samiran Mazumdar sums it up beautifully: Incompetent rule is much better than organized misrule.
As regards the frying pan to fire transition, peace and prosperity don't follow automatically when an oppressive ruler is shown the door. The French Revolution triggered much bloodshed, chaos, and a series of European wars. Despite all that, 1789 was a giant step for civilization along a confusing and uneven road called progress.
Closer home, after the communist rule ended in East Europe, much of the population was pauperized. There was tremendous hardship and lawlessness particularly in Russia. One of the largest exports from East Europe to the rest of the continent was prostitutes. The six former Yugoslav republics fought several bloody wars between 1991 and 2001. But in less than two decades, East Europe has reclaimed much of its lost ground.
Let us throw out the Left and welcome chaos for some time. Let us have faith in ourselves. The land of Ram Mohan Roy, Bankim Chandra, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda cannot have become so barren that we will not find a way to reclaim our rightful place on the map.