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Saturday 5 May 2012

LUMPENLAND - The cause of West Bengal’s gloom lies in its people’s naiveté


- The cause of West Bengal's gloom lies in its people's naiveté
Cutting Corners
Ashok Mitra
Milieu makes the mood; if you are rooted in Calcutta and West Bengal, it would be impossible for you to escape the gloom and apprehension rending the air. It would be equally difficult to evade the onus of co-authoring the circumstances that have led to the present state of affairs.
The Left Front — or maybe the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or maybe the party's state leadership — took, during the seventh term of the front's regime in the state, certain decisions and condoned certain activities which totally alienated important sections of people. The regime, besides, was patently inefficient. One reason for this was its over-dependence on party hacks who lacked even the minimum competence. The ambience bred both sycophancy and corruption. Nepotism grievously impaired the working of thepanchayats, with the result that what was initially considered to be the bastion of Left strength turned into a noose round its neck. The bush telegraph works with expedition in the countryside; disaffection spread like wildfire.
Come poll time 2011, large groups of voters did not care for whom they were voting as long as they were voting against the Left. The lady whom the Time magazine has now canonised was biding her time; that moment arrived. She had been relentlessly campaigning against the Left and its ideology and praxis for years on end. She was at the spot whenever and wherever the Left or its government, whether purposely or absentmindedly, happened to do something that hurt the sentiments of the people; she would organize, pronto, massive protests. She had a kind of charisma which captivated the lower echelons of society, which in turn evoked the admiration of upper middle-class categories. Ensuring that the vote against the Left did not get dissipated, all these sections solidly opted for the candidates picked by the lady. Even segments of the electorate representing, so to say, the literati swelled this crowd. Few, very few, were interested in digging into the lady's antecedents. She was vowing to demolish the CPI(M) and vindicate the people's will; she was promising to restore democratic norms and the rule of law; she dripped sincerity; there was apparently no reason not to take the contents of her poll manifesto at their face value.
The lady annihilated the Left. The literati rejoiced. Euphoria took over. Once she had accomplished the big miracle, the sequels, it was taken for granted, were bound to follow. Law and order would return to the state. Snatchings, killings, odious offences against women would stop. Nepotism would vanish in the educational sphere and merit would once again prevail over mediocrity. The panchayats and civic bodies would be rid of big and small corruption, farmers would begin to get fair prices for their crop, factories would reopen, even if it would not quite be the ushering in of the ethereal season of milk and honey, it would at least be a modest version of it.
Destroying the Front, especially the CPI(M), was in any case the common objective of a wide spectrum. The ruling party at the Centre nurtured a deep anathema for the CPI(M), the central leadership of which had proved to be an infernal nuisance. Here was a golden opportunity to discomfiture that beastly party. The Congress mobilized all its resources to help the lady, streetfighter par excellence, who in fact, not long ago, was very much in the parent party. Big business was known in the pre-poll weeks to have invested generously for the lady; its rationale for backing her was nothing very specific, simply that the inordinately long reign of a communist formation in a strategically important part of the country was thought to be bad for the health of industry and commerce. Extraordinarily enough, poll-eve support for the lady was not lacking from the far-out Left either. Not just the Maoists, several Naxalite and neo-Naxalite factions also devoutly wished for the electoral defeat of the CPI(M) for what they judged to be its unforgivable betrayal of the revolutionary cause and its evident endorsement of the capitalist path of development. If this Rosa Luxemburg of the Right was the appropriatedeus ex machina to achieve the purpose in view, there should be no holding back from offering her some, if not material, at least symbolic, support. The attitude of these stray groups was not far different from that of a substantial number of ordinary householders who were till then habituated to think of themselves as integral constituents of the Left mainstream, but who, on this occasion, were determined to give the Left Front leadership a hiding so that it learned the lesson and returned to good behaviour.
The events of the last few weeks, with the new administration in the state, and particularly its chief minister, on the rampage, have been a rude awakening. A great many among those who rooted for the lady are scandalized; they have not been at all prepared for this kind of denouement of the dream they dreamt barely a year ago. Once more they are having recourse to the modus operandi they chose when they were protesting against the Left Front: rallies, processions, signature campaigns, television interviews, poster exhibitions, songs and poetry writing, street corner skits. Restoring democracy and the rule of law, resisting authoritarianism, opposing one-party hegemony in the educational field, asserting the people's right to read what they like and write and speak what they have in their minds — these and similar other incantations are choking the concourse.
Pardon the impertinence, but are not the protestors back in the streets really paying for their own naiveté? They were under no compulsion to vote for the lady. They nonetheless did, for their own reasons and without taking into account the likely consequences. If she is now reckoned to be failing them, that is no business of hers, but of those who voted in the manner they did.
The literati would presumably express surprise at the statement. The lady had promised certain things, they would post the complaint, which she is now disavowing in a flagrant manner. Is this though not precisely where their blunder lies? They did not bother to do some elementary research into her bio-data. From the very beginning of her career, the lady had been contemptuous of the dividing line between fact and presumption. She has over the years trained herself to make the most outrageous statements and proceed as if these were beyond challenge. In other words, she has never owned responsibility for her words. One of her major capital assets is her dogged will to succeed in life. She has been unhesitant to cut whatever corners it was expedient to cut in the pursuit of this goal. The so-called moral issue has never detained her. Perhaps even as late as today, she is unable to understand why all that fuss was created over her bogus doctorate from a non-existent American university. Her pre-poll pledges last year were for the birds; she does not lose any sleep on account of her lightheartedness.
Make no mistake though, she has one basic loyalty. That is to her primal constituency, the formidable army of lumpens made up of the various underclasses in Calcutta and across the state; slum dwellers leading a wretched existence under the most unsanitary conditions and with uncertain, often shady, means of livelihood, laid-off workers out of a job for years on end, petty office-goers and teachers of diverse academic streams who are convinced society has been deliberately unfair to them, second or third generation migrants from what was once East Pakistan barely scraping a living and unable to get reconciled to their immiserized conditions, the multitude of frustrated youth who try to earn some money by hawking whatever they can lay their hands on, shirkers and lazybones, misfits and misanthropes of all descriptions and, finally, thugs and rowdies. A persistent feeling of hostility towards the system — any system — binds these elements together. Afflicted by a restless turbulence, they love to hate whomever they consider hate-worthy. This heterogeneity is instinctively against any organization or discipline. They, therefore, abhor organized political parties, which preach the necessity of long, united struggle to attain desired ends. The lady, reared by streetfighting, speaks a language and uses a vocabulary that bewitch them. She has an ample stock of foul abusive words to run down the organized Left. They roar in approval. The lady promises them the moon which, she assures, involves no pain; they just have to stand by her. They believe her because she is so much like them. They have sworn undying allegiance to her. She too is resolute never to disown their company, she is for them; they are for her. The freebies she is distributing are her way of requiting their love and loyalty.
True, about every political party in the neighbourhood believes in retaining a reservoir of lumpens. The services of these toughies are occasionally called for in delicate situations. But the party bosses generally feel somewhat bashful about the phenomenon and take care to keep the lumpen elements under cover. In the loose organizational structure the lady is experimenting with, things are the reverse: while this is a veneer of the bhadralok tribe here and there, the lumpens are to the fore, they are the lady's closest confidants cum advisers. They know, thanks to her, their kingdom has come and they would now get even with all those who, in the past, used to sneer at them.
There is possibly a little bit more. The run of her continuous successes in various political battlefields — mainly because of the current precarious state of being of the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre — has convinced many of the lumpen brigade that she is no less than a goddess. The lady herself, symptoms suggest, has begun to half-believe in her divinity. The autocratic demeanour she is increasingly betraying lends credence to the surmise.
The arithmetic of the budget is no respecter of divinity. That apart, an administration cannot be run with any degree of efficiency by lumpens, or their proxies. The people of West Bengal cannot gauge the fate awaiting them in the coming days. But is the goddess of a chief minister herself sanguine what lies ahead of her?

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