Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday, the 13th

( I posted this on 12th, but Blogger went into maintenance and the post vanished. I have reposted it from a copy which I kept because of the Blogger's uncertain behaviour )

Friday, the 13th has ominous connotations in the Western culture. Many believe it is an inauspicious day, a day on which one does not undertake a journey or start a new venture. The superstition, it is said, dates back to Friday, the 13th October, 1307 - the day on which king Philip of France arrested, in a sweeping and simultaneous action, all members of the Knights Templar in France and subsequently tortured them to extract false confessions and burned them at stakes. He also pressurised the then Pope to take similar action on the Knights Templar  all over Europe virtually eliminating a highly respected christian military order which had existed for two centuries and served as the main fighting units in the Crusades.
(In his best selling novel Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown resurrected the Knights Templar as a secret organisation which continued through the efforts of the survivors of that onslaught and helped preserve the Holy Grail. But that is   fiction, though Friday, the 13th October,1307 is part of Europe's history which led to many legends and myths and gave rise to the superstition associated with the day and date.)
Nearer home, on Friday, the 13th May, the results of the Assembly election will be declared in West Bengal and if the analysts and the pre and post poll surveys are to be believed, the Party in power for the last 34 years, no Knights Templar though, will be routed in the hustings. Not with the help of the sword but through a democratic exercise of power.
If that happens, it will be a 'change', a great 'change' undoubtedly which many people have been talking about for sometime, but will it mean a change in the political and economic culture in the state ? It is hard to tell.
The polls had to be spaced out in six phases and conducted under the watchful eyes of security forces to ensure they are free and fair. It is common knowledge that without those security forces there could be rigging, intimidation, booth capturing and in many places people would not have felt free to exercise their choices.  But this happens in most of the states in this country, not only in West Bengal, even though we never tire of proclaiming our democratic credentials and their reaffirmation every time there is an election.
What is special here is the culture of protests and of rallies,strikes and bandhs which bring public life and economy to a standstill pretty often . What is worrisome is the possibility of continuation of a state of war between contending  political parties both inside and outside the legislature and the resulting turf war to gain political control of geographical areas as well as social, cultural and educational institutions.
With a stagnating economy, finances in poor shape, high level of unemployment, infrastructural bottlenecks for industrial development accentuated by land acquisition problems ( which probably is most important cause that turned the tide against the ruling regime ),education and healthcare needing attention and volatile interest groups ready to be mobilised on the streets, any new government will have a lot on its plate.
Mamata Banerjee has unquestionable qualities of leadership. She has built a party almost singlehandedly and has become a symbol of resistance which has drawn people from all walks of life under her banner to fight against the might of a highly organised CPM in power. She is a great fighter and has shown considerable political acumen and savoir faire in her long and sustained battle against the CPM and the Left Front, but if her party wins tomorrow, which seems most likely, she will need to show an additional quality, that of statesmanship, to steer the unstable ship that West Bengal is, if she has to succeed in implementing the road map for development her party manifesto promises for the State.     
To start with, what people need is a functioning democracy which allows them freedom of speech and dissent, provides them dignity, and opportunities regardless of party affiliation, where opposition is accommodated and listened to and most importantly which brings about a rule of law people respect and follow, on the streets, in schools and colleges, in their places of employment and in voicing their grievances. That would presuppose a responsive bureaucratic and law enforcing machinery free from political interference.
According to all reports, Nitish Kumar has turned the tide in Bihar. There is no reason why it can't happen in West Bengal. I hope  Friday, the 13th May, 2011 turns out lucky for the State else we have to be content with a democracy that only comes into existence every five years (it could be less ) at the voting time under increasingly heavier armed guard.

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