Heat Of Democracy
Calcutta may not be all that happening – though that is debatable – it is most definitely hot. And one is not just talking about the weather, which to make an understatement, had reached boiling point so to speak in the last few days with temperatures soaring as high as 42 degrees Celcius and in the process breaking a decade-old record. But more than the heat wave (it was officially declared to be one by the Met office), it is the election fever running through the city and the rest of the state that is the point to note. In the first three phases of the five in which Bengal votes during these general elections, it has recorded the highest voter turnout in the country oscillating between 80 to 82 percent. In fact Central Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi said that the polling percentage in Bengal is expected to reach an all time high of 83 percent. Now, that is hot.
The Political Bangalee
Politically-inclined to begin with (here on any given day – or night for that matter – if you walk down the streets you are likely to encounter groups of people sitting around in street corners discussing politics), election-time in Bengal is a time of suspended reality with everyone from the morning milkman to the night watchman trying to engage you in a conversation about which way the political wind is blowing. "Ki hobey boley mone hochhey, Didi?" (What do you think will happen?) the neighbourhood news-stand man asked, flipping through a news magazine from his stand. "That toh, you should know better," I said, trying to get him to answer his own question, adding "You're the newsman." With all those periodicals and publications, newspapers and news magazines at his disposal, he did, after all, have the entire gamut of predictions laid out right there in front of him. "Jhoolbey…" (It will 'hang') he said definitively. The news-stand is stationed beside a rickshaw stand, and a rickshaw puller was listening, reclining on the seat of his own rickshaw, stretching out his legs before him, his hands behind his head. Now he butted in. He said, "Amrai jholabo. Na jholaley toh bohut baar berey jabey," (We will make sure it hangs. Otherwise 'they' will grow too big for their boots.)
Modi Vs. Didi
Narendra Modi, the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate, who had earlier tried to be cordial with Didi (Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee), perhaps in the hope of striking up some sort of a political tie-up to push up his numbers in the scenario of a hung Parliament, has now completely discarded that strategy. Now he is openly baiting her, even questioning her role in the chit fund scam that rocked the state recently. In his last visit to Calcutta, where he addressed a rally, he had said that Bengal was blessed enough to have "laddoos" (goodies) in both hands…in the state they had Mamata and in the Centre they could, if they chose to, have him (if they voted BJP). (Later he told a Bengali news anchor that he should have said "roshogollas" but that's besides the point.) But with Mamata herself nurturing the Delhi-dream and refusing to get dragged into another coalition with either the BJP or the Congress (at least not at the crucial pre-poll stage), where she was sure to only play a secondary role and then with her repeatedly alluding to Modi as "the face of communalism," it may have got too much for him.
This week Modi decided to drop in on Bengal again. His third visit in less than three months. Ostensibly to lend weight to the campaign of the star BJP candidate musician Bappi Lahiri from Bengal's Srirampur, it was really to show Didi how much support he commands in her state. It was at this rally that he finally threw down the gauntlet at Didi. He challenged her to come clean on the chit fund scam and raised questions about whether she was protecting those who were involved and why. Modi also hinted at the dubiousness surrounding the sale of Mamata's paintings and demanded to know what she had done with the money. (Mamata's paintings which had over the years become well-known, less for their artistic value than for the fact that these were hers, has often been in the news because these were auctioned at high prices – several lakhs – and the proceeds were supposed to go to a charity. But the painting questioned by Modi was reportedly sold for over one crore and the charity which was supposed to have received the funds denied having done so.) Modi even went to the extent of declaring that the Trinamool Congress government has caused more damage to Bengal in 34 months than the Left had done in 34 years.
The Apparent Heir
Mamata Banerjee has decided to field her nephew Abhishek Banerjee as a Parliamentary candidate. He will contest from the Diamond Harbour seat in South 24 Paragans District which goes to polls in the last phase on May 12. Diamond Harbour is the constituency from which veteran parliamentarian Somen Mitra won the seat during the 2009 Parliamentary elections on a Trinamool ticket. For the most part of his political career he had been in the Congress party but decided to defect to the Trinamool only to defect back to Congress after falling out with Didi earlier this year. Though it is rumoured that Mayor Shovan Chattopadhyay, who is also the Trinamool Congress District head of South 24 Paraganas, was eyeing that seat – something which Chattopadhyay has denied – Mamata, say political observers, wanted to hand this almost sure-shot seat to a family member who would be loyal to her. "She has her suspicions and she wants a trustworthy aide in Parliament, whom she can rely on blindly," said a source. The young Abhishek – in his early 30s – reminds me of the Akhilesh Yadavs and the Rahul Gandhis. Perhaps Mamata, who is known wants to hold onto the reins lest someone should betray her, is training the heir to the throne for the Trinamool? Clearly nepotism or the rule of dynasty is not limited to the Gandhi family.
The Slogan War
A TMC campaign in the Jadavpur constituency where CPI-M's Sujan Chakraborty is the rival candidate to their own Dr Sugoto Bose: "Shono ebar Sujan Mama/Tomar mukhey ghoshbo jhaama" (Listen now, Uncle Sujan…we are going to rub your nose in the dirt)
A CPI-M campaign in another constituency: "Ma-Mati-Manush er shorkar…cheat fund…nari nirjaton…aar nei dorkar" (The government of Ma-Mati-Manush…that of the chit fund scandal…where crimes against women have risen…we don't need anymore)