LEAVES OF GRASS

If Kolkata's streets and walls are indicators, TMC has already won the battle of the soul. The time for change has arrived
Amit Sengupta Delhi 

Despite the massive rally in Kolkata, and the recapture of Lalgarh and Jangalmahal from the Maoists by CPM's armed Harmads, the red graffiti might only be deceiving itself. Gone is the zing of its muscle power, or the thing of 'scientific rigging' which its extra-constitutional structures ensured in election after election. So omnipresent has been the terror of CPM for three decades plus, that vast tracts of the rural countryside, or the magical walls of Kolkata, would only be dominated by CPM's graffiti. Even its own allies, tailists like the Forward Bloc, RSP and CPI, would not dare to put posters or hold street meetings in territories 'captured' and 'owned' by the big brother. 

Three decades on, after CPM and Congress crushed the Naxalbari uprising and eliminated one generation of the young, West Bengal, known as a centre of cultural renaissance, intellectual vigour, radical politics and progressive ethos, lost its aesthetic rendezvous. Disgusted by CPM's muscular, opportunist, stagnant status quo, most youngsters turned Rightwing or apolitical. While armed goons of the paras (neighbourhoods) of the extra-constitutional structures of CPM dominated the mainstream and the margins, a state of despair dominated the inner life of the state. 

Malnourishment continues to be rampant. Unemployment remains high. The education system is reeking at the core. Systems have cracked or rusted, while poverty stalks the fertile land. The work culture has always been in eternal decline. And Operation Barga, the post-Naxalite land reforms initiated to diffuse the radical tension on the ground, lost its way, became mired in stagnation and corruption, even while a new breed of 'Red Jotedars' (red landlords) came to call the shots, especially during elections.

Urban Bengal lost its aesthetic content. Literature, cinema, streets, bylanes, reflected the decline. There existed no stream of consciousness which ran like a parallel narrative of existential resistance. There was no politics other than what the big brother decided. An uncanny sense of defeatism and déjà vu, as if in a rotting quagmire, settled in the political consciousness. Like bad memory and bad faith.

Until the Nandigram resistance arrived, against the new crony capitalism, and changed the equations, on the ground, on the streets of Kolkata, and in the green fields of the beautiful countryside. The poorest -- sharecroppers and landless farmers, Dalits and Muslims, women and children - joined the struggle at Nandigram and Singur (and then Lalgarh), and with them marched across the streets of Bengal, writers, artists, filmmakers, actors, students, teachers, doctors, intellectuals and citizens. This was a historic, radical rupture which turned the rusted dialectic upside down. The people had finally revolted. And a rainbow of coalitions captured the imagination of the imagined communities.

Aamra Parivartan Chai: We want change. This became the slogan which flew on the wings of desire across the Kolkata skyline. The language changed. Cultural effervescence found a new meaning. People said, "Enough."

But there was no enlightened opposition to fill the gap. No political alternative. The Maoists remained underground, with support in the poverty-stricken landscape of tribal and forest areas, widening its support base among students and intellectuals. They also made tactical errors, indulged in mindless violence, even as CPM harmads pushed them hard in Lalgarh and beyond, towards the Jharkhand border. Many were arrested or killed. Kishenji became an enigma and an aberration, only to disappear, apparently seriously injured in a shoot-out.

The party that took all the advantage of this paradigm shift was Trinamool Congress (TMC) and its maverick grassroots leader in hawai chappals: Mamata Bannerji. She joined the Nandigram and Singur resistance, and tilted the 'parivartan' alliance towards her party. Almost all of  Bengal rooted for her party. It was time for CPM to go.

TMC trounced the CPM in the Lok Sabha elections of 2009, along with Congress. Congress, before TMC split from it, always cornered 42 per cent votes, even in defeat. Together, they regained the vote share and crossed the limit. 

Now, if Kolkata's streets and walls are indicators, TMC has already won the battle of the soul. CPM's muscle and clout has declined. TMC's leaves of grass are spread across the innermost lanes, even while the red flag refuses to flutter. The time for change has arrived.  

There is no political alternative other than the TMC in Bengal. And the main thing, most Bengalis tell this reporter, is that CPM should be defeated at all cost, its arrogance and corruption should be destroyed, its absolute power must be dismantled. Besides, the Maoists can't be ruled out. Their support base will be decisive for TMC. A radical current eternally stalks the restless Bengali mind. Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia, and North Bengal, might be decisive in this test against time.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: APRIL 2011