If you look around the streets of Kolkata now, you will get an impression that people here have primarily two concerns in life: buying gold to get their daughters married off, and to cast their vote in the upcoming elections. The Bengali new year was welcomed on Monday, which explains the excitement around the gold, but the hoardings mostly put up by media houses on the elections, are all about creating opinions. They all insist they are fair, non partisan and help you create your “just” opinion on who to vote for.
But if you ask the average urban middle class voter in Kolkata, they always greet the question “Who should you vote for” with much cynicism; they understand that the great election tamasha is, as Nietzsche would call, an act of choosing the lesser evil. There are exceptions, moments of euphoria, as people experienced in 2009 and more emphatically in 2011 when 34 years of the CPI (M) regime in Bengal came to an end. Mamata Banerjee was symbolic for change, a “paribartan” she wittily used in her speeches: “Bodla chaina, Bodol chai” (“We don’t want revenge but want change”).
Read More: Who will Kolkata vote for?
Apparent peace in Junglemahal and North Bengal had been seen as few of the first successes of Mamata, but the face of her governance that the state sees today is one of terror and lawlessness. She and her party members have continuously assaulted, verbally and physically, Election Commission members (in Howrah, Hebra, Malda); by insulting a supreme constitutional authority for conducting elections, she has undermined her own constitutional position as the head of a state. There are also attacks on opposition party candidates directly, the latest being the summons of BJP candidate Babul Supriyo to a police station for enquiry on a case regarding possession of illegal arms. It can be easily seen as a political move, since the police are not as concerned to even summon and question murder accused Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders like Monirul Islam and Anubrata Mondal, even after the Supreme Court has clearly pointed out it is not happy with the investigations so far.
But is this attitude of a bully representative of the party’s insecurities as there is an impression that the TMC is scared of losing its foothold in many areas in Bengal. But if the state does not vote for Didi again, who will they vote for? It seems almost impossible that the CPI (M) could come to power again, after the people had decisively voted them out of power just three years ago. The CPI (M) had ceased to represent the alternative economic policies as symbolised by the struggles in Nandigram and Singur. Also, there is hardly any aggression in the campaigning by the CPI (M). Whenever the TMC does something outrageous like beating up Election Commission officers, the first newsbytes are received from the Congress and the BJP opposition leaders.
But will the people vote for the BJP and the Congress? It is highly probable that Bengal will vote more in favour of the BJP than it has done in the past, but gaining a substantial majority throughout the state is impossible because of the lack of grassroots organisation structure in the state. Though the party’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi promised in a recent rally to show people “real paribartan”, any sweeping change seems improbable right now.
The Congress, which is hardly existent in South Bengal and its popularity is limited in north Bengal districts like Malda, will struggle harder. It might have suffered more by joining hands with the TMC in 2009 and 2011, and the panchayat elections have shown, after the divorce, most of the votes have gone to the TMC. This trend seems difficult to change given the anti-Congress ride throughout the country, coupled with the very limited stature of the Congress in Bengal nowadays.
Only Darjeeling must be seen as an exception where people would clearly vote on peace and development under the current regime as against the hope of a new state. The Morcha has left Mamata to join hands with the BJP and is promising a new state, while Mamata is promising them peace and more autonomy of governance. Here, the people’s choice is critical, and this year’s election must be seen as crucial to chart the route for the region in future.
The NOTA (None Of The Above) option in voting does not help to reject a candidate, and as a result can only be used to just save your vote from being misused. Bengal is not left with a great variety when it goes to polling on Thursday. It cannot deny that a thumping majority for a party in the state will help negotiate better terms from the Centre when a new central government is formed. Will the people pin their hopes on Didi because they think she is the best option, or just because they think a strong support will let her gain a better package for the state? May 16 will provide most of the answers.