It made Mamata Banerjee seethe and the Left Front smile. It made the Congress High Command throw up its arms in surrender. But Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury just refused to relent. In the biggest blow to the Congress-Trinamool Congress alliance, during the second phase of elections in West Bengal which took place on April 23 in the three districts of Nadia, Murshidabad and Birbhum, Chowdhury, who is also the Murshidabad district Congress head, fielded four candidates who would not only contest the Left but also TMC. Insisting that his district was a traditionally strong Congress base where TMC had no presence whatsoever, he refused to accept or acknowledge the fielding of TMC candidates in his area. In fact, so annoyed was Chowdhury with the seat-sharing arrangement with TMC which left the Congress with only 64 seats from which to contest the elections, that he had reportedly even suggested to Sonia Gandhi that Congress should fight the elections in the state alone. When that didn’t happen he simply went ahead and put up his own candidates ignoring both words of wisdom as well as warnings of disciplinary action. Even the possibility of dividing the anti-Left votes didn’t deter him. When asked about his out and out defiance, he explained that he wasn’t against the alliance and wouldn’t mind seeing Banerjee as chief minister, but no way could he allow what was rightfully of the Congress to be taken away by TMC. It is believed that part of Chowdhury’s refusal to concede assembly seats to TMC stems from the fear that if TMC wins from these constituencies, in the future Banerjee would insist on fielding parliamentary candidates from Murshidabad, which had for years been the Congress forte. Last heard, not only did no one take punitive action against Chowdhury (he is deemed to extremely influential and indispensable to the Congress party), on polling day he was heard asking one of his candidates – whom he insists on calling ‘Congress’ rather than ‘independent’ – whether he was scoring runs and hitting sixes and fours (the symbol assigned to this Congress/Independent candidate was a cricket bat).
In Nadia district there is a village called Kullupara which is inhabited by 200 people, mostly Muslim farmers. 105 of them are of voting age. April 23 saw them come over the border from Bangladesh into India to cast their votes. No, they are not illegal immigrants being utilized by political parties for votes. The geographical location of their village is such that the BSF check post runs through it as does the barbed-wire fencing dividing India and Bangladesh. In a sense, they spend most of the year in a political no man’s land, but on election day, it’s clear where they belong.
On Saturday, while former CPIM MP Anil Basu was making derogatory remarks about TMC chief Mamata Banerjee and sex-workers (which created a public furore, prompting CPIM leaders including the Chief Minister and Left Front Chairman Biman Basu to force him to apologize) in Nadia district, the district administration had put up a separate booth near a red light area so that sex worker in the area could cast their ballot without being subjected to the curious, prying eyes. Just one such example of proactive policies to protect vulnerable communities makes it easier to believe that the outrage directed at Anil Basu by his political peers is perhaps sincere and not just so much campaign-trail posturing.
Thirteenth May Change
Recently, a reporter threw a currently popular SMS riddle at Mamata Banerjee, “Bolun toh, TMC maney ki?” (What do you think TMC really stands for?) Amused, Banerjee shook her head, “Na, boltey parchina. Apni boley deen”. (No, I don’t know. You tell me.). The reporter declared to a beaming Banerjee, “TMC means Thirteenth May Change” “Change” is the theme and slogan of the TMC’s campaign to oust the long-serving Left Front government. Thirteenth May is the date on which the votes will be counted.
Smear, Sarcasm, Slander...
Though it is only on May 13, after the results are declared, that it would become clear who really is forming the government in the state, speculation is rife and different surveys are throwing up different projections. Each of the two main rival political fronts of course are “confident” of a win with each getting ready to form the government. While Mamata Banerjee has come on record to claim that the Left should consider itself lucky if it gets even 50 of the 294 seats (currently the Left is 235 strong), the Left is ridiculing TMC’s “over-confidence”.
In this scenario a Left leader surprised everyone by claiming that in the three districts that went to vote in the second phase which was a contest for 50 assembly seats, TMC will achieve a 200 percent win. When asked what he meant, he quipped, “Last time they got 2, this time they will get 4!” Clearly slander is not the politician’s only weapon against rivals this election season of smear-campaigning …sarcasm is a close contender.
Political slogans are throwing up all sorts of rhymes...sample a few:
- “CPM sorkar/tomakey aar nei dorkar" (sorkar = government, dorkar = need. 'We don’t need you anymore, CPM Government)
- “Aaj baadey kaal/hariey jabey laal" (kaal = time, laal = red. 'The red party’s days are numbered)
- “CPM jago/Bangla chhere bhago” (jago = wake up, bhago = run. 'Wake up CPM and smell the coffee…it’s time to run from Bengal')
- “Ogo Mamata/koi dekhao dekhi khomota” (khomota = ability and rhymes with Mamata. Slogan baits Mamata, says let’s see your ability)
- “Aha, jora phool aar chondon/Kolkata holo London” (chondon = sandal wood paste, rhymes with London. Slogan is a dig at Banerjee’s promise to turn Calcutta into a dream city like London; flower and sandalwood paste, according to a Bengali saying, makes dreams come true; flower (jora phool) is the TMC symbol)
- “Payey choti, poroney shari/helicopter chepey gelen Didi, porey roilo gari” (shari = sari, gari = car. Slogan ridicules Mamata for wearing chappals but going around in helicopters instead of the more plebeian car. It’s is a dig at Mamata’s helicopter-campaigning)