The Left Regains Its Passion

A mandatory stop during weekend strolls is the legendary “Radu Babu’s Teashop” on Janak Road near Lake Market in Calcutta. It’s also a great vantage point to see political comings and goings on. Last year, on one such Sunday evening, a street meeting was taking place in front of the tea stall commemorating Jyoti Basu’s 102nd birth anniversary. A former Calcutta Mayor from the Left Front days was holding forth tiredly to an audience of less than hundred people.

Cut to April 2016. The road is jam packed. Loudspeakers boom across the “pada” (neighbourhood) heralding the “Jote” (alliance) rally for the debutant Congress candidate. There is a new energy and passion in the speeches, though initially they sound a bit surreal as much of what Trinamool is being accused of today was said about the Left Front in 2011. Irony dies a thousand deaths — when one of the speakers vows to open up shut factories and bring the Tatas back to Singur.

Reminder of Saradha does not stir the crowd nor does repeated references to Narada (sting). But, the mood changes with the mention of the fly-over collapse with its toll of 28 lives. Sensing that he has touched a chord, the speaker expands on the theme. Citing the AMRI hospital fire a few years ago he asks: if Directors of the private hospital were locked up after the incident, why is the Chairman of KMDA (Kolkata Metropolitan Development Authority) — Firad Hakim — one of Mamata’s favourites not in jail? The crowd cheers.

Even a month ago few would have put their money on the “alliance” giving Trinamool a run for its money, let alone putting up a fight.

So, what has changed?

The Narada sting, while it hurt, may not have tilted the balance by itself, but the flyover tragedy was the proverbial tipping-point — a rude reminder of the Saradha scam and the syndicate raj. It has buoyed the spirits of the opposition — echoes of which were heard in CPIM cadres greeting Rahul Gandhi with “Lal Salaam” calls.

But the alliance may have put the Bhadralok in a bind as a conversation at The Calcutta Club Men’s Bar, where the BJP’s Tathagata Roy — now Governor of Tripura– is a regular, reveals. Traditionally, the “Bhadraloks” were not fans of either Mamata or the Left. It used to be said that the Babus of North Calcutta rooted for only Mohun Bagan and Congress. Yet, they decisively opted for “Poriborton” voting TMC to boot out the Left. Their hopes had soared when the Modi wave had touched Calcutta during the Lok Sabha Polls only to quickly recede later. This time around they are left with Hobson’s choice as Congress is in the couch with the Left and the BJP a non-starter even in the municipal polls.

Fish is the conversation starter. One of the veterans perched on the bar stool quotes his friendly “maach-wallah” who told him: “Be it the Trinamool or the “Jot”, I’ll have to continue selling fish. Only the “mastans” (goons) of one party will get replaced by the “Dadas” of the other.” His fellow tippler chips in: “But there will be a slight difference — the “dapot” (upper-hand) of one community will ease a bit”, unmindful of the fact that the barman belongs to the community he is referring to.

Trinamool was known to be on a relatively weak wicket in Central and North Bengal. But, after the first two rounds of polling, chinks in its strongholds of South Bengal and Jangal Mahal are visible too.

This is reflected in the ambivalent speeches of Mamata Banerjee — at times penitent, sometimes a tacit admission of issues and then suddenly on the offensive again. The sudden spurt in violence during the third round is seen as much as the Trinamool feeling jittery as the opposition getting its bearings back.

In the midst of all this, BJP stands out as being utterly confused. Even die-hard supporters of the party can’t make out which way the party is tilting. The BJP did come up with a brilliant series of TV Commercials which at one go took on both the Left and TMC. But, they are a waste, as the party doesn’t seem to have either the seriousness or the ground organisation to win even a handful of seats.. People aren’t also clear why Narendra Modi flew in, incurring huge expenses, to address so many rallies. The most plausible hypothesis being his campaign would push the residual Muslim vote towards Trinamool. More likely he and Amit Shah are simply trying to keep the slow-fires burning till 2019.

The only thing clear about these elections is that poets, satirists and cartoonists are firmly with the Left and Congress. Having suffered five years of suppression they are having a field day. The intellectual elite have company in a media group that is going hammer and tongs against the Trinamool despite supporting it in 2011. Its editor is quoted in the memoirs of a veteran journalist as saying “I am the second most important Bengali after Jyoti Basu”. The rumour is he now wants to prove that he is the most powerful Bengali alive today who can make or break a leader. But will he?

(The writer is a roving marketing professional who views life from a right angle. The opinions expressed are personal and does not represent or reflect those of his employers.)


Originally published at www.outlookindia.com.

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