Monday, June 6, 2011

Political roller coaster

Cricket is a game of uncertainty, so is politics.
The roller coaster ride that Mamata Banerjee had in her political career amply demonstrates the point. So does the nosedive that Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's  political fortune took in recent times.
In the 2004 parliamentary elections, Mamata was the only one from her party to be elected to the Loksabha. The poor showing of her party in the polls did marginalise  it to some extent, more so after the Left Front strode to a convincing victory in the ensuing Assembly elections. She continued to make headlines however and kept herself politically relevant through protests and agitations against the government  but at least at that stage she could not attract many adherents except for her die-hard supporters. Nobody could foresee what was to happen in a few years time and in fact, there were many who thought her politics were merely disruptive, as the CPM's had been in the sixties and seventies of the last century, stalling the progress and development of the state.
Meanwhile, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's star was rising. He was seen as a man of refinement and culture,  talking of development and industrialisation in the state and of creating an environment conducive to achieve that goal. He spoke against gheraos and trade union militancy which many considered as root causes of the state's industrial decline and flight of capital from it. His govt. was seen as investor-friendly and his sincerity was not doubted, though doubts remained in some quarters about his ability to carry his party along with him given the party's past antagonism to big businesses and its culture of dictating terms in every sphere of activity.
People were optimistic by and large. In Kolkata they saw flyovers coming up, roads being widened, shopping malls proping up here and there and lot of construction activity going on. They felt something was happening, for a change, in this state.
In 2006 Assembly election, the highly organised, well oiled party apparatus, adept at electoral battles, no doubt did its bit, but this feeling of optimism and Buddhadebbabu's reformist and liberal image contributed to a great extent to the resounding victory that the Left Front had.
The euphoria did not last long though. The turning point came with the fiasco at Nandigram, the block in East Medinipur chosen for a Special Economic Zone ( SEZ ) and a chemical hub where the resistance of the villagers to the proposed acquisition of farm lands under the Land Acquisition Act was sought to be suppressed and crushed by the joint efforts of the police and the CPM's cadres. This area was known to be dominated by the CPM  which possibly never anticipated such  a strong resistance from the villagers and reacted viciously, using terror tactics to force them into submission. Some of the pitched battles that ensued at different parts of Nandigram were beamed on different TV channels. Then came the fateful day in March 2007 when  14 villagers ( official estimate ) were killed in police firing. The incident caused wide spread outrage not only in the state but all across the nation. Even left leaning intellectuals came out on the street in a protest march in Kolkata to condemn the incident which shattered the pro people image of the government and  the CPM and revealed the ugly face of a cadre raj that Mamata Banerjee was all along complaining about.
Mamata was already agitating against forcible acquisition of land at Singur where the Tatas had been granted a lease to set up their automobile factory to manufacture a small car Nano - the newest kid on the block - advertised as the cheapest car in the world. She had gone on a hunger strike on this issue, but her agitations did not have much of an impact till then. On the contrary, many in the urban middle class thought that, in her strident opposition to any project of the CPM led government, she was only destroying a chance that the state was getting for economic regeneration. It was generally accepted that in a land starved state like West Bengal, agricultural land needed to be taken over in any industrialisation drive but the plight of the evicted farmers who may not have known any other form of livelihood, as a consequence of any forcible take over by the government under an archaic law had not really penetrated the consciousness of many in the urban educated classes but after the Nandigram episode they realised that the land vs industry was a complex and sensitive  issue which needed greater attention and consideration to the interests of the affected farmers and could not and should not be resolved by brute force alone in a democratic and politically aware society. The episode caused widespread resentment against the government and gave Mamata's agitation a new lease of life. With an expanded  support base now, she launched a demonstration blocking the national highway outside Singur for ten days or so, a discredited government remaining a mute spectator. The government did not concede to her uncompromising demand that the lands of the unwilling farmers were to be returned but the Tatas had no option but to pull out from Singur though their factory was nearing completion.
Singur was a dream that never came true, not only for Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee but many others  in the state who were not necessarily CPM sympathisers, but Mamata was already on the road to achieve her dreams which seemed nearly impossibly only a few months back.
The downward slide in the CPM's as well as Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's political fortune which started then was only helped by the party's obdurate behaviour at the national level and was reflected in successive elections thereafter culminating in the Left's defeat in the Assembly elections which changed the power structure in the state after 34 years and made Mamata Banerjee the newest CM of West Bengal.
These ups and downs will remain an important chapter in the history of West Bengal. Much has been written about it, more will be. Not only about the rise of Mamata Banerjee as a phenomenon in West Bengal and Indian politics but also about the rise and fall of the CPM dominated Left and their 34 years of rule which also is a phenomenon of sorts in the context of a democracy which allows people to exercise their options for a change every five years.
While looking back, one may feel happy about a democracy which allows opposition to operate and take up causes of interest to the people, a democracy that allows a free and independent media capable of bringing under scrutiny and debate every action of the government or a party, and finally about the people generally docile, mostly silent, sometimes even dumb, but who can at times say - this far, and no further. But a doubt lingers. Will our politicians as a class continue to rely on street agitations and blockades as the only forms of political action or shift the emphasis to well argued and informed debates in the Assembly of elected representatives ? Further, in these days of the electronic media whose reach is far and wide, even in the rural areas, and which is ever ready to take up controversial issues for a debate and panel discussions involving not only politicians, but also civil society members, a political message can be sent out to a wider audience than can be done in a rally to influence people in general and  thereby the government if need be. It is not that politicians have not learnt to do that, they are doing it already and had to do it during the period rallies and processions were not allowed before the last election. Why not make it the general practice, instead of flexing muscles at mass meetings to put pressure on a democratically elected government?


1 comment:

  1. Detailed depiction in Dc'S blog truely reveals salient facts in POLITICAL scenario that we saw in West Bengal between yr. 2004-20011 that culminated in overwhelming support of mass against really really long lasting unprecedented left front rule,almost more than 34yrs. Rightely
    a "roller coaster ride" for us and huge learning point for any enthusiast for politics