38/100: Polling Time In West Bengal
I returned to this subject often thereafter, given that Kolkata is still home, wherever in the world I may live. My stance rarely changed, though. I maintained, for the most part of the last five years, that the Left Front remained the best options for the people in Bengal. I despaired at the personality cult of the opposition leader and her tantrum-prone politics. I deplored her populist stances over the industrial projects in West Bengal, and wished that her alliance partners, the Congress Party, will abandon her in time for 2011 elections. But, by 2009, for all my affiliations to the left of the centre parties and my dislike of leaders like Ms Banerjee, I was reconciled to the fact that the Left Front is on its way out.
I chronicle this now because it indeed seems to be the case. Apart from a series of bad news, stalling of industrial development of West Bengal, a general deterioration of law and order, an acceleration of Maoist insurgency in certain parts of the state, the government seemed to be losing its way every passing day. The ruling Communist Party added to its record of committing historical blunders by exiting the Centre-Left coalition in India's Federal government in 2008, handing Ms Banerjee a much needed second life in coalition with Indian National Congress. Her leadership skills did not improve a bit, but her politics gained some gravitas in comparison to the infantile ramblings of the left.
The latest case, which will possibly become one of the most prominent examples of electoral suicide, is demonstrated by a viral video of a speech made by one of the leading Left leaders of the state. In what would have looked comic but for its obscenity, the speaker calls Ms Banerjee a prostitute who is selling herself to the highest, foreign, bidders. Even the audience, most certainly the party faithfuls, were muted in their clapping; the reaction of the general public was furious. Even the Communist Party bosses, who are usually quick to defend even the most atrocious actions by the party cadre, are unusually apologetic: Possibly they understood how much damage the video would have done.
The video is symptomatic, though. This shows why the Left will lose this election: Their leaders are completely out of date and out of touch. The speaker in question, a veteran street campaigner, was completely oblivious of the power of television, let alone the viral videos. He forgot that there was no 'local' audience any more. The point he made - when put in general context by worldwide viewership - was no longer about the opposition leader: It was a dig against all women. The video is still dominating the Bengali news channels and Facebook, and the derelict Communist Party Election Managers simply does not know how these things work anymore. One way, the Television is putting the last nail in the coffin for the Communist Party in India (Live Television made their 2008 No-Confidence motion against the Indian Government look silly), and Internet has now joined the force.
In the end, the end of Left rule may not be a bad thing for West Bengal. It will be chaos in the short run, but chaos is possibly better than stalemate. The disease that plagued Bengal for last two decades (after the initial reforms of the left rule) is the monopoly of political power and consequent rise of Representatives-for-Life which rendered democracy quite useless. In fact, the Left parties kept doing this for so long despite losing their appeal, thanks for the First-Past-The-Post system (a system like Alternative Voting would have pushed them out a good twenty years back).
In the end, I am hopeful about Bengal. I am hopeful that a new start will now be made. Green shoots of entrepreneurship and innovation will emerge after the chaos. People of Bengal, long suppressed and devoid of opportunities, will find the expression and energy to shape their own future. May be, the moment of West Bengal will now finally arrive.