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Monday, May 16, 2022

Bengal has an impossible choice to make this election

West Bengal must choose between BJP’s tall claims, Left’s cluelessness and TMC’s governance by gamble.

Written by Sayandeb Chowdhury |
Updated: March 27, 2021 8:37:54 am
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata. (Express Photo: Partha Paul)

The elections in Bengal seem to have become something of a national pastime. I cannot recall a period when the national media has spent this much time pondering over Bengal’s future. This must surely be an anomaly. The word future in the context of Bengal challenges even the most resolute. The once-mighty Bengal’s perceived fall from grace and consequent loss in national eminence is such a long-drawn work-in-progress that many have lost track of what Aristotle would call the telos. Rather, one tends to speak of Bengal — in both jest and angst — as a Platonic idea, something outside time and historicity. In this election, however, Bengal seems to have emerged into the national consciousness as a material object, with the unenviable task of confronting its innards, so far hidden from electoral optics. These internal injuries, it is being presumed, will play a decisive role in Bengal’s tilt this summer.

The most rib-tickling claim to that effect has been made by the BJP. In the armature of Hindutva’s national populism, Bengal is a sideshow, but has great symbolic value if it falls to the BJP. To ensure it does, the BJP has decided that Bengal is full of agonised Hindus dying to climb aboard the galloping North Indian mothership. The BJP has couched this dogma with the gobbledygook called Sonar Bangla, unleashing the standard operating procedure of lies and identity politics. The BJP has also decided that a few carrots for Bengal’s Hindus could undo decades of social cohabitation and hard-earned, experiential wisdom about BJP’s utterly abysmal record of governance elsewhere.

The CPM-Congress-ICF alliance is, in comparison, tense-agnostic. It cannot bet on the past; neither can it claim the untested, future-reliant terrain that the BJP is banking on. Unless one is born in the new millennium, CPM’s three-and-a-half-decade rule — a mixed bag of agro-reforms, mass politicisation of institutions, widespread de-industrialisation, and reckless hubris — is a lived experience. The memory of the Congress, even if more faded than that of the Left, is worse. Together, they cannot promise a return to an operable past, neither have they fought this election on real issues, having been bereft of ideas, political strategising and informed debate. Rather, standing firm on their epic distaste for TMC, the Left has fallen into the predictable template of blurring Mamata with the BJP, trying to flog the much-maligned monster of her monocracy. The Left’s unwillingness to see the difference between the fatuous personality cult of Mamata and the diabolic nature of BJP’s takeover is a sign of it having learnt nothing from its own past as a party with similar authoritarian tendencies. It has also inducted, as an empowered ally, a local cleric to win away Muslim votes from the TMC. Entrenched realities? Certainly of the kind that would make the BJP cheerful and Marx shift in his grave. Here too, the Left, has sought umbrage under a perceived imagination of a Bengal full of the vulnerable minority. Only in one aspect is the Left alliance different from the BJP. Apart from the dregs of TMC who have swam to the saffron side, the BJP has fumbled with finding candidates, able or not. In comparison, the Left’s elderly leadership have let their senility take the backseat, letting a set of young faces emerge, who seem to stand out with a sincerity of purpose long alien to their older comrades.

The TMC has the highest stake in Bengal as the incumbent party. It is no secret that like all state-level sovereigns, TMC has always been a party of Mamata Banerjee’s cult. She had singlehandedly brought the upper-caste arrogance and orthodoxy of the CPM to its feet; then modelled herself on the Left’s mislaid image as the protector of the poor; and then bettered the Left by governing through an admixture of whim, welfare doles and knee-jerk, street-wise showmanship. True to her history, she is now morphing into a better Bengali Hindu than the BJP can ever hope to be. This is typical of local parties — think AAP — who can mould themselves repeatedly into stimulants (good, bad and ugly) as per the demands of the hormone in each election season. She is likely to go past the finishing line but her imagined Bengal continues to be made of flea-market ephemera — of glittering trinkets, ad nauseam festivities and obscene replicas.

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In short, TMC will go past, if it does, simply because the falsities of the BJP’s politics, and the cluelessness of the Left will be considered less preferable than TMC’s governance by gamble. The state will slide further away from an imagined idea of Bengal, finding itself more and more engulfed by a national infirmity, where real issues of economy, polity and land will be usurped by a concocted spectacle of manufactured hate, tribalism and refugee onslaught. The unfinished epic novel of Bengal’s prosperous past and everlasting decline will continue to remain free of closure, like a book out of Jorge Louis Borges’s Library of Babel.

The writer teaches at Ambedkar University, Delhi. Views are personal

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