The Trinamool Congress has won the Panchayat polls. It has stormed the last bastion of Left power by wresting 13 of the 17 districts in West Bengal. This victory in the rural polls completes TMC’s “poriborton” agenda which began in 2009 when Mamata Banerjee’s party walked into Parliament with 20 MPs, 19 more than the previous Lok Sabha Elections, reducing the Left to only 15 out of the 42 Bengal seats. Then of course came the Assembly elections of 2011, when Didi swept to power in the state with a landslide victory routing the Left Front after 34 long years. The Left still continued to control power at the rural level, the elections to which had last been held in 2008. Evidently the TMC’s popularity has not hit an all time low as was perceived by many because of a series of embarrassments suffered by the state government recently. Factors like the chit fund bust in which rural voters lost thousands of rupees by investing in ponzi schemes controlled by many who had TMC connections or the recent spate of violent crimes against women and the inadequate state response to these did not play a part in the rural voters’ verdict.
But the TMC victory is not without controversies. Other than the unfortunate fact that 13 lives were lost during the course of the five-phase elections, a number of complaints have been lodged against the ruling party. These range from allegations of rigging (snatching ballot papers and casting someone else’s vote) to intimidation of Opposition candidates and forcing them to withdraw from the fray. In fact 15 per cent of the seats went uncontested as Opposition parties could not — they allege they were not allowed to by ruling party goons — file nomination papers. TMC leaders responded to such accusations by counter attacking Opposition parties, especially the CPIM and recalled the time in the 2003 Panchayat Elections when Left goons intimidated the Opposition and did not allow them to file nomination papers in many places. The fact that this is a rather lame argument — just because they did it, doesn't mean that you too can do it too— just doesn’t seem to occur to our leaders who continue to use this logic.
The other news that dominated the headlines this week is a series of attacks on women across the state. After the rape and murder of a college student in a village called Kamduni and then the rape and murder of a school girl which saw hundreds and thousands of protesters descend on the streets of Calcutta, sexual assaults seemed to continue unabated. A French woman and her male friend were chased by goons on bikes one night as they were walking back home in one of Calcutta’s most ‘respectable’ neighbourhoods with the attackers telling them, “I want to f…her”. Then an IT professional, a young woman travelling in the women’s compartment, had to jump off a moving train in a West Bengal suburb to ward of molesters. The state remained shocked by the response of its woman chief minister, who has been dismissing reports of violence against women by calling them everything from “a concocted story” to “a small matter.”
After a series of media reports on these sexual attacks in the state, Calcutta police finally decided to crack down. It identified the most vulnerable — read “unsafe for women” zones in the city and set up night vigilance facilities in these areas, stepping up patrolling and random checking. While the move has instilled a sense of relief in the people Calcutta, let’s hope such night vigilance facilities continue to stay on and not fizzle out with time.
With Telangana getting the green signal, the movement for Gorkhaland has reared its head once again. The Darjeeling-based Gorkha Janmukti Morcha has stepped up pressure on the West Bengal state government, demanding that the process of creation of a separate Gorkha state begin immediately. GJM leader Bimal Gurung has called a strike in the North Bengal hills, reminiscent of the crippling strikes during the Left regime when Subhash Ghising and his Gorkha National Liberation Front led the movement to secede. In fact, when Mamata Banerjee beamed about having had a breakthrough dialogue with GJM soon after she came to power saying that she had all but solved the Gorkhaland issue, it was easy to see the parallel between their dialogue and the one between Ghising and then CM Jyoti Basu. He too had believed he had achieved a breakthrough. Evidently history does repeat itself.
The new Kaushik Ganguly film, C/O Sir stars Saswata Chatterjee, who shot to fame with his award-winning portrayal of the diabolic insurance agent Bob Biswas in the Sujoy Ghosh movie Kahani. Here Chatterjee plays the protagonist, a schoolteacher in the hills of North Bengal, who having recently gone blind becomes the victim of a fraudulent ploy in which his property is being taken over by his own trusted lawyer and friend. After the success of Bob Biswas, we have seen Saswata portray a range of other characters in various other films and in each he has proved his versatility as an actor. From playing Ritwik Ghatak in Meghe Dhaka Tara (named after Ghatak’s own masterpiece), the biopic on the master filmmaker to a police officer, Saswata is emerging as one of Bengal’s best as far as lead actors go. Once upon a time Bengali cinema was ruled by Uttam Kumar. His contemporaries, no less talented or charismatic than him, included Soumitra Chatterjee, Anil Chatterjee and others but it was Uttam Kumar who was the star of the times. After him, came the Tapas Pals and others but it was — and still is — Prosenjit Chatterjee who is the star. It is yet to be seen who from the current generation of actors — including Parambrata, Indraneil, Priyanshu and others — becomes the star of the times. Saswata is slowly but certainly becoming strong contender.