The Communists would cringe at the reference of the Bengal fortress being equated with the Bastille, for the French revolution was an outcome of decadence. The difference is that while the profligacy of royalty caused a violent upsurge in the Gallic hinterland, the very opposite supposedly exalted socialistic values had imprisoned the people of Bengal in a time warp.
In both cases, a revolt had been in the making for a while, churning in the gut of the hungry and the hopeless. A severe economic crisis, regressive governance and breakdown of law and order fomented riotous crowds. The French had resorted to the guillotine, Naxals took up the country gun, and lakhs of local common men and women in Bengal – they just queued up in hordes to exercise their most potent weapon – their vote.
In the land where Goddess Kali is worshipped as the supreme deity, it is befitting that a woman has brought about a revolution.
And what a woman; not someone born into a powerful family or married to some heavyweight leader where political legacy fell into her lap. Mamata Banerjee is self-made and worked her way to victory, inch by inch, all 34 years of her political life when she dreamt of the impossible – relegating the Left to the dustbin of history.
She is one from among the rabble. Claimed by the people, symbolically from the gutter – a visit to her residence is marked by offal from sewage stream close to her house. A street fighter, she appears in her trademark crumpled dhaniakhali sarees and disheveled hair. Crude, loud and one given to tantrums, Mamata has been a woman on a mission.
In India, we have a fascination with austerity. We love a sacrifice. Whether it is Sonia Gandhi following the voice of her conscience and renouncing the PM’s post or Mamata living in a run down spartan house, without an AC, a car or even a decent pair of sandals.
Circumstance helped, no doubt. West Bengal has been in decay. Once the capital of India and a magnet of investment and talent; resplendent days of this once vibrant state are now only visible in sepia tones, and picture books of the past.
Look at a basic indicator. While Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or even Hyderabad are grappling with a swell of migrants, people are deserting Kolkata, once a throbbing metropolis. Corrosion of industry, lack of opportunities and rampant unemployment are forcing people to look for greener pastures elsewhere.
Bengal has been a land of passion and pride. A cradle of a culture and cultivated minds. Its educated class was a pioneer of ideas and invention. But for years the Red brigade banned English from government schools till Class V. A generation grew up without the advantage of an equal start, with stuttering skills in a language in which all business of modern day is conducted.
In the India State Hunger Index, West Bengal figures in the ‘alarming’ category. And over a quarter of the state’s population is below the poverty level. For far too long, the common man has been used as cattle to crowd rallies and sit on dharnas, while wheels of progress slowly rusted and fell into disrepair.
By the time incumbent Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee realised the folly of Communists, it was too late. The hoi polloi had no fortitude left to wait for the Left to correct course and infuse fresh life into the debilitating province. They want change and they want it now.
This is what is worrisome. Mamata is a mass leader, she knows how to fight. She is a survivor. Few people have endured such hardship and vitriol attack, as was heaped on her by the Left. She carried on valiantly, demolishing the Marxist citadel. But those who break don’t necessarily know how to build.
Her several tenures as Union Minister at the Centre are nothing to write home about. In fact, they are far from perfect. She has bungled in a big way as the Railway Minister – with its coffers empty and litany of bloody accidents. She seems hand in glove with the Naxals, who botched miserably when they painted graffiti praising her on a train that they attacked.
In Singur and Nandigram, she stole the thunder from the Left when she drove away investment by fighting for rights of small land owners. But populism does not fill bellies or ensure progress. Her maverick tactics certainly won’t. Concrete policies will.
As she goes on to occupy the Writers’ Building – the red edifice at the heart of Dalhousie Square, Mamata may well remember that she has won on the wave of expectation. West Bengal is restless for development, and is hoping to reclaim its place under the sun. Patience will run very thin. If she fails to deliver, the tide may turn against her.
Those who have placed Didi on the throne will not give her another three decades to ‘fix it’. It will be a now or never game. If you ask me who the Bengali will choose if not Mamata next time, ironical as it may sound, I would say it might just be the Communists! Undoubtedly, they have just suffered their worst rout. But they are down, not out.
Mamata should pause in her moment of triumph and draw inspiration from Dushyant Kumar’s smoldering words if she is in this for a long run:
Sirf hungama khada karna mera maksad nahi,
Meri koshish hai ki ye surat badalni chahiye.
My intention is not just to create a ruckus;
the face of things must change.