Bengal goes to vote in seven phases, starting from 4 April 2016. These polls, however, are not just about deciding the next government. This time, Bengal votes to answer the question that stares at every voter's face in the region: Do we want to be free?
This statement may sound melodramatic to many people, but anyone who has been clued into Bengal politics in the last five years will know what I am talking about and why this present election is a symbol of our survival.
Bengal and its people were gasping for change. In walked the TMC and its fire-breathing leader Mamata Banerjee who promised people poriborton (change).
In 2011, the Trinamool Congress came to power with a thumping victory after 34 years of 'Left rule' in Bengal. After the alleged 'terror politics' in the reign of late Jyoti Basu, and as Bengal crumbled under the heavy weight of a breakdown of education, lack of industry, and lack of a voice for the people, the good work of the last Left Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya and his cabinet went unnoticed. Bengal and its people were gasping for change. In walked the TMC and its fire-breathing leader Mamata Banerjee who promised people poriborton (change). Oceans of people--from the modest wage-earners to the intellectuals--flooded the streets rallying for her win and against the Left Front's rule of 34 years.
Five years into this new government, it seems like Bengal has realized the grave mistake that it committed in its blind obsession with change. The five years of TMC rule has seen the state buckle under the apparent misrule of uneducated ministers, rampant extortion of money from common people through muscle power, the unholy rise of land syndicates that work much like the mafia, and, most importantly, the whimsical and totalitarian nature of a Chief Minister who appears to be suffering from an acute persecution complex.
Five years into this new government, it seems like Bengal has realised the grave mistake that it committed in its blind obsession with change.
Slowly, a series of events started forming a pattern. It started small, from a rape case being called '"sajano ghotona" (doctored incident), to jailing professors for circulating a cartoon mocking her on Facebook to the deeply disturbing events of calling students "Maoists" for asking her uncomfortable questions about the lack of growth in her state. As scams like Saradha and stings like Narada, where many cabinet ministers among others were seen on tape taking bribes for shoddy work, became public, the party only called it "dirty political vendetta". What Bengal has turned into under her rule seems comically similar to the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland in which she answered any question with "Off with his head!" Only this time, it appears to be happening for real.
As an under-construction bridge in Kolkata's busiest part collapsed on 31 March 2016, burying dozens under it, the Chief Minister's first reaction was, it was the previous government's fault. And with this one statement, something snapped in the complacent Bengali's mind. We have been turning a blind eye to the misfortune we had brought to our homes in the name of change. We did have change, but it was a change that took us to the abyss. We realised we had sold ourselves to the devil, caught up as we were in the frenzied chant for poriborton.
You might be threatened, maybe even beaten up. But know that behind every threat lies the insecurity of a government which knows the power of the people.
The good thing with democracy is that unlike a 'deal with the Devil', we do get second chances to rectify our mistakes. As Bengal stands on the brink of another election, the average Bengali has two clear choices: The first choice is to continue with the politics of a CM and her cabinet who do not shy away from mouthing threats like paying back "inch by inch" every dissenter once they come back to power. The second option is to back an alliance of the Left and Congress, parties that have come together despite their opposing ideologies in the realization that there is something far greater at stake here: democracy to even have opposing views. The first could push us to our own destruction. The second could give us the voice that we seem to have almost forgotten-- the voice of dissent, to argue and to speak for ourselves.
There is an old saying which we Bengalis are often seen repeating: "What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow." This election season, we stand to either make this statement true and prove to the entire country and to ourselves that if you push people to the brink they will fight back and claim their rights, or perish under another five years of misrule, moral breakdown and the death of our individual selves. As councillors and leaders (essentially, goons) indulge in rampant scare tactics to silence the common voter (the last Municipal elections in the elite and educated Salt Lake area saw unprecedented violence where journalists, common voters were beaten on live television at various booths), many of us might have a small voice telling us, is it worth the effort going against such violence? Is it safe? You might not be safe. You might be threatened, maybe even beaten up. But know that behind every threat lies the insecurity of a government which knows the power of the people.
Go and vote Bengal. Do it to save your own selves.
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