If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Witnessing history being made

[Dear Reader, I was off-blog for a long time as I was suffering from a serious bout of teaching. You can count on regular posts here from now on. That’s a promise signed with blood.] 

An army of lensmen in front of the new chief minister's house

On 13 May 2011, I stayed glued to the TV since morning to follow the election results in four states including West Bengal, the fourth largest state in India in terms of population, with more people - 9 million - than in Germany. The writing had been on the wall for some time. By midday it was confirmed that "one of the most entrenched political machines in the world", the Marxist government, was on its way out. It was hardly a surprise. But political truth, like God, lives in details. What was surprising was the scale of their defeat. The mighty rulers were reduced to 62 seats in the state legislature, from 235 five years before. Almost all the ministers were defeated by known and unknown upstarts, including a motley collection of fading film-stars, retired government bigwigs, doctors, and so on. The opposition combine of Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Congress came to power with 227 of the 294 seats.

On an awfully humid day, as temperature soared to stifling 36 degrees in shade, people danced on the roads of Kolkata under a scorching sun. It was Holi, the festival of spring, in summer.

In West Bengal, people had started resenting the government of the party, for the party, and by the party. Over time, resentment turned into odium. Ultimately, the common man’s desire found expression in one feisty single woman in her mid-fifties: Mamata Banerjee.

Mamata has neither a political lineage nor much to show for herself except personal integrity, courage and determination. And these qualities she has in abundance. Not long ago, her party’s strength in the parliament was down to one, she being the only MP from TMC. While pundits wrote her political obituary, she kept working towards her goal, undeterred. In 2006 she went on a twenty-six day fast to protest against forcible acquisition of land in Singur. Has anyone else attempted such a thing in India after 1947?

Most of the dancing and merrymaking happened in front of the leader’s house. This is another shift from the past. For the monolithic Marxists, individuals do not matter much; celebrations would happen only in front of their party office. We do not know what this shift foretells. Does it presage an administration with a human touch? Or does it portent tyranny of one person? We will have to wait for the answer.

As the day wore on, temperature soared and a deluge of people visited Mamata’s house, which turned into a place of pilgrimage. In the evening, I along with my friend Gautam walked down to the epicentre of the political Tsunami that swept the left away. A little before reaching our destination, we crossed the famous temple at Kalighat, which had far fewer visitor that day compared to what Mamata's  home had.

Traffic was blocked at the junction near her house. The place looked more like a village fairground. In the palpably lower-middleclass neighbourhood, the narrow lane leading to the house was chock-full with people. Going by the age and gender profile, it didn’t look like a crowd of only political workers. The crowd consisted mainly of ordinary folk like you and me.

Green in Bengal stands as the counterpoint to the Reds

After a short distance, an even narrower alley branched off on the left. We were close to our destination. The ground beneath was covered with a spaghetti like confusion of cables drawn from television OB vans kept in a parallel road some distance away. We stopped in front of an unpretentious house with a tiled roof in front of which dozens of cameramen had gathered under a marquee. The CM elect was away at the Governor's House, a public address system announced. There were thousands of men and women, hope and relief writ large on their faces. I could understand their feeling, because I shared it. It is possibly something that those who haven't lived under a totalitarian regime wouldn't quite fathom.

This tiled building is the address of the new chief minister of West Bengal

A small business close to Mamata's home

On our way back, we came across a shop in a shanty close to Mamata's house. As things stand, it is almost an authentic representation of the state of industry and commerce in Bengal today. Will things change?

A sweat-soaked BBC cameraman

Quite a few foreign journalists were in Kolkata on 13 May to report the end of the elected communist government that lived 34 long years defying all logic. We met one of them on our way home. Will they visit the city again to report something substantially good? Let's hope they will.

1 comment:

  1. Even so far away i was closely monitoring the results and was great to see only lady single handedly dismantled communist regime.
    One thing i never got around was how come one party were able to stay in power for 34 years? That too communists. Were they so good all these years to deserve that level patronage from the people?


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