West Bengal elections epochal change for under-30

By Torsa Ghosal

"You know, in Singapore, for more than 40 years now, one political party has been winning legislative assembly elections. It’s so strange isn’t it?" remarked a friend who had been born and brought up in New Delhi but had just moved to Singapore for work.  "It is a wonder that Singapore seems to be so well-developed despite this lack of political change," she continued.

It took me a while to realize I was not really sharing her emotions.  Having lived in an Indian state that has had the same political party winning the Assembly polls for 34 years, I had always associated Writers' Building with aged white dhoti-kurta clad avowed Leftists.  I hadn't thought about whether lack of political change meant lack of development.

 West Bengal elections epochal change for under-30

A man sits in a rickshaw decorated with Trinamool Congress placards in Kolkata. Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

I have been able to vote for four years now but for as long as I can remember, I have seen considerable apathy among my social circle  - the right to vote was taken for granted as were the winners of the elections. But this time public forums, including social networking sites, have been flooded with discussions on this issue. The perception that people who do not have an official affiliation with a political party would not disclose who they vote for has been upended. One of my friend's status update on Facebook on the eve of the polls in Kolkata read, "We need change, I will vote for it." Fifty-one people 'liked' the status within a few minutes. One of the comments read, "We need change against change!"

There was this other one-liner circulating on Facebook - "Green Bengal. Clean Bengal". And interestingly, it was not only residents in Bengal who were involved in these discussions. A friend of mine who is in Alabama this year and not able to cast her vote wrote "Anyone wanting a new project idea? Create an online voting system for Bengal elections … Make sure you include the "rigging" feature... or else it will bleed red !!" That received warm support from her friends' list, even as someone skeptically pointed out, "Sadly booth capturing, voter intimidation, false votes not possible via online system. So this won't work."

Open access questionnaires are circulating asking "Who will win 2011 elections in Bengal?" Some come  from people like 30-year-old entrepreneur Pinaki De, others from younger folks like teenager Debarati Mukherji. Gone are the days when we dismissed discussions about voting and politics saying "All politicians are corrupt".  Now at least we are thinking which leader might be "less" corrupt.

Soumashree Bose, a student of Calcutta University, says, "The choice is between the devil and the deep sea -- we have given one version of evil a chance for too long, now it’s time for another." One of the key offenses of Left Front, it seems, is the fact that it has been around for too long and like its most recognizable faces, has aged, not very gracefully at that. We realize that Bengal needs a facelift.

A substantial portion of the population of Kolkata and in fact, of Bengal, has to move to other states to earn a living or for higher education. We continue to have  shutdowns and processions stalling work. Of course, it is difficult to place one’s faith in a political party to deliver on an efficient work culture when its leader actually asks for a national holiday following the Indian cricket team's World Cup win.

Despite the talk of change, I still feel Mamata Banerjee has defined herself in terms of the Left. She has always followed the basic paradigm of "they have done this, we will do that" . Over the years, that gradually brought her anti-incumbent votes. When I talk to my friends who are currently vociferous about the "need" for change, they often say they're basically opposed to the Left Front and AITMC is their only option to bring about the "change". One of AITMC’s political slogans says, "Badal chai, Badla chaina" (We want change, not revenge).  This campaign, marketed by host of popular stars from film and television along with Mamata, has struck a chord. The Left Front’s image has already been tarnished because of Singur and Nandigram. The 2009 Lok Sabha elections highlighted the strength of the opposition to the Left Front.  The breakthrough has been achieved.

The frenzied call for 'change' marketed through songs and slogans by AITMC had set me thinking that perhaps the risk of change was worth taking. As I mulled over this a recorded voice on a phone call chimed in "I am so-and-so, the CPI(M) candidate from…For the sake of peace, stability, to fight the Maoists vote for…"  My 65-year old uncle, while browsing news channels before the polls, passionately remarked "Change! Change! Do they not remember the condition of the state before 1977 -- the sheer poverty, tension, repression?" For a middle class city bred voter like me who has seen no other governing party, making a choice entails navigating all of this -- elders’ histories, the barrage of information in old and new media and understanding what are the priorities I would like my government to address.

On election day when I stepped into the voting booth the official supposed to locate my name on the voter’s list failed to do so.  After quite a few minutes he asked someone else to get the version of the voter's list which was in alphabetic order. That person didn't budge, only retorted with a frown: "Peruse the list you've got."  They kept passing the ball back and forth while the booth remained blocked because my name could not be found. After a good fifteen minutes someone, quite reluctantly, brought the alphabetically arranged list and I got my slip to vote. I headed towards the voting machine wondering if voting for either of the two political contenders could change this basic problem that accounts for so many of our setbacks - our work culture and our attitude towards work.

Torsa Ghosal is currently pursuing M.A in English from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. She is 22 years old and has freelanced for several newspapers.


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Updated Date: May 11, 2011 12:30:19 IST