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Bengal: The writing is on the wall

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May 08, 2006 11:07 IST

No prizes this time for guessing who will emerge as winner in the five-phase West Bengal Assembly elections.

For, to quote chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, 'the invisible writing is on the wall'.

Baring a miracle, the 29-year-old Left Front government will find itself at the helm of affairs once again when results are announced on May 11.

Though the Opposition -- comprising the belligerent Trinamool Congress and a feeble and almost non-existent Congress -- is crying itself hoarse about attaining power this time, people find no ray of hope in its statement.

Democracy essentially presupposes a change. Any political party being in power for years at a stretch is detrimental to democratic principles. Are we, therefore, to believe that democracy is at stake in Bengal?

In an attempt to seek an answer to this question and explore the reasons for the Left Front's unparalleled success, we spoke to common people, businessmen and intellectuals across the state. Almost all of them were of the opinion that the lack of an organised and recognisable opposition has prevented the electorate from opting for a change.

"A democracy that sees a single party ruling for years cannot be considered a healthy democracy," says Sunil Gangopadhyay, ace Bengali writer. "We would have loved to witness a major political reshuffle in West Bengal, like in Kerala. But we are left with no option. Neither the ever-quarrelling Trinamool Congress, nor the dwindling Congress have been better alternatives," he adds.

It is not that Gangopadhyay is unaware of the Left Front's excesses. But he is wise enough to comprehend that 'such behaviour is but natural for a party that has been in power for way too long'.

Agrees Professor Sunanda Sanyal, president of the Ganamukti Parishad, an NGO.

Though his organisation has brought to fore acts of injustice and atrocities by various political parties, Sanyal has no qualms in admitting that the "opposition in West Bengal has ceased to exist. The only person who had some charisma and following was Mamta Banerjee. But it's a pity that she could not utilise it properly."

Sanyal's words are echoed by Pradip Adak, a cloth merchant of North Kolkata: "As traders, we need a peaceful environment. It will not be proper to give the Left Front government 100 out 100, but known devils are always better than unknown angels."

Praising the chief minister for his openness and reformist approach, Adak feels his return to power will prove beneficial not only for the business community but also for the entire state.

Disagrees Trinamool Congress leader Saugata Roy. "In the name of reforms, Buddhadev Bhattacharya is working towards a queer mix of capitalism and communism, which is illogical and absurd," he says.

"He is only riding the popularity wave. The people of the state should use their minds and give us [the Trinamool Congress] a chance this time. Apart from reviving law and order in the state, we will also bring in reforms in the true sense of the term."

A genuine appeal no doubt, but does it hold water? According to Prof Sanyal, "People of the state are yet to forget what a mess the Trinamool Congress made after winning the municipal elections a few years back. Therefore, they have every reason to doubt the party's capabilities. Let alone winning, it will even be difficult for the Trinamool Congress to make an impact this time."

With the verdict almost clear even before the final phase of election gets over, the people of Kolkata have two things to look forward to: the election results to be declared on May 11 and the policies to be adopted by the CPI-M at its Politburo meeting in New Delhi a couple of days later. 


Indrani Roy Mitra in Kolkata