Kolkata: There was a time when the Left Front had a mighty following among writers and artists of West Bengal. But today its intellectuals are firmly entrenched in two rival camps - "parivartan" (change) and "pratyavartan" (return).
`Change` is being sought by supporters of the opposition Trinamool Congress as well as those simply fed up with the Left Front, which has ruled for 34 years. `Return` is the catchphrase of those who want the Communists to continue in power.
Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, who heads the Left Front goverment and is known as a cultured man with refined tastes and a passion for literature, used to have a good following among the artists and writers of the state.
But the scenario changed after the anti-land acquisition protests in Nandigram and Singur in 2007-2008, when the Left was accused of adopting strong arm tactics against farmers and the poor, its traditional votebank.
This prompted a large number of intellectuals to switch over to the Trinamool. Over time, the state has seen a total polarisation of intellectuals between the Left and Trinamool.
Pro-Trinamool intellectuals like journalist-turned-writer and singer Kabir Suman became an MP from the party, while theatre personality Bratya Basu has fought the ongoing assembly elections.
"A change of guard is necessary because if a government stays in power for too long, it stops functioning properly. It stops caring about the masses. The Left Front has been in power for more than three decades," Manoj Mitra, a renowned theatre personality who was earlier known as an artist close to the state`s ruling Marxists said.
Eminent writer Atin Bandopadhyay echoed Mitra.
"Yes, I want a change of regime. After staying in power for so long, they think they can get away by doing whatever they want. This is not right. Let`s at least give one chance to the Trinamool Congress. If you see my writings, you will find Leftist leanings, but this Left Front has lost all its Left ideology," said Bandopadhyay, earlier known for his proximity with the Left.
Earlier this year, Bandopadhyay hit the headlines by openly condemning the killing of seven villagers by alleged Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) goons in West Midnapore district. He did so at the opening ceremony of the Kolkata Book Fair, embarrassing Chief Minister Bhattacharjee who was present on the dais.
The Left Front, which rode to power in 1977 cashing in on the popular discontent against the Congress during the Emergency, has over the last three decades enjoyed the backing of a large number of intellectuals. But, clearly, the popularity has faded.
"From Nandigram to Netai, I had protested the atrocities of the Left Front and now also I have the same stand. It hasn`t changed," said Shanka Ghosh, a Padma Bhushan award winning Bengali poet, once close to Bhattacharjee.
However, some remain sceptical about Trinamool`s performance if voted to power in the state, which is holding six-phased assembly polls from April 18 to May 10.
"I am sceptical about the effectiveness of governance if there is a change of party. I want change in the quality of governance. It is true that the Left Front has made several mistakes, but I trust what they are saying now about what they will do if they are again voted to power," said Kaushik Sen, eminent theatre personality who had earlier protested the alleged atrocities of the Left Front.
Renowned writer Samaresh Majumdar was more critical of Trinamool, which is led by Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee.
"It is indeed a historic election where Bengal will see a fight between the Left Front and a single person. No doubt, the Left Front has made many mistakes during its rule, but in the Trinamool Congress, there is no leader other than Mamata Banerjee," he said.
"If Trinamool comes to power and god forbid if she becomes ill for a few days, how will her party and government run?" wondered Majumdar.
Some remain tightlipped about their political preferences, though they admit they would welcome a change in the quality of governance.
"Everybody welcomes a change in terms of quality. Everybody wants improvement from good to better," said Buddhadeb Dasgupta, a National Award winning filmmaker.