So the first phase of polling in the six-phase Assembly Elections in West Bengal has gone off “peacefully.” Much is being made of that. But then consider this: For the 12,131 booths that were put up across the state’s six northern districts that voted, there were 600 companies of patrolling paramilitary forces waiting to nab mischief-makers. This, in addition to the 1,478 micro observers, 28 general observers, nine expenditure observers and two police observers. And just in case a troublemaker managed to escape the watchful eyes of these observers, 1099 digital cameras and 270 video cameras were installed to capture the goings on inside the booths. Add to that the webcams that had been placed in 174 booths, allowing officials to monitor a miscreant’s every move. If after this polling didn’t go off “peacefully”… now that would be something to make much about.
The just concluded first-phase polls from the point of view of
- Trinamool Congress: “Monday’s polls marked the beginning of the end of Left rule in West Bengal.” (in the words of TMC chief, Mamata Banerjee)
- Communist Party of India (Marxists): “We are confident of a Left Front win. People have got used to steady Left Front rule…We rule out any paribartan (change).” (in the words of North Bengal CPIM district secretary Jibon Moitra.
Na Didi Na Dada
In Darjeeling – one of the 6 districts that went to polls in the first phase –Gorkhaland was among the key election issues. With Bengal’s two main rival political parties – CPIM and TMC both opposing the division of Bengal and the creation of Gorkhaland, it is the pro-Gorkhaland regional parties, namely the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, led by Bimal Gurung, which have controlled the politics of that region. So while the Left parties and the TMC-Congress are fighting it out in the rest of Bengal, they are hardly visible in these Himalayan hills. Even Subhash Ghisingh, the leader of the Gorkha National Liberation Front, who had been barred from entering Darjeeling by GJM several years ago, made an appearance. (Ghising had pioneered the Gorkhaland movement in the 1980s but was subsequently accused by GJM – a breakaway of GNLF – of compromising the position of the hill people and their unconditional demand for a separate state by entering into an unacceptable dialogue with the state and central government.) He returned to the region, campaigned and voted. But neither Didi (Mamata Banerjee) nor Dada (chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya) went to Darjeeling. In fact, during the Parliamentary elections of 2009, BJP took full advantage of the absence of any considerable support base of these two political parties and fielded its own candidate Jaswant Singh, promised Gorkhaland and won.
Mamata Banerjee’s helicopter-campaigning in the north continues to elicit barbs from Left leaders. Arguably the corniest one was fired by Biman Basu, Left Front chairman when he told a gathering recently: “My name is Biman (which means aircraft) and I should be the one to be up in the air.” In fact the Left seems to have developed a fascination for symbolic names. It has even roped in a man called Rajya Sarkar (which means State Government in Bengali) to do their campaigning.
Speaking of fascinations with words, suddenly “tsunami” has become the politician’s favourite term. It is being freely bandied about by one and all to describe the ferocity with which rival politicians will be swept out by the electorate. “A tsunami of change struck North Bengal,” Mamata Banerjee said after the first-phase of polling. And Biman Bose thought that the record turnout in the first-phase (84.11 percent compared to the 82.77 percent in the last Assembly elections) is indicative of a “tsunami” against the “so-called tides of change blowing throughout the state.”
So what's the fuss?
For at least two voters in the first phase of elections “34 years” is not that long a time. 116-year-old Jay Bahadur Chhetri and his wife Sarmaya, 103, who had turned up to vote in a Siliguri booth on April 18 didn’t know what all the fuss was about when asked what they thought of three decades of Left rule.
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