KOLKATA: The Left in Bengal seems to have lost the cultural battle against the TMC, much before the electoral battle has even been decided.
“I work as a software engineer in Sector 5, Salt Lake (Kolkata’s IT hub), and was oblivious of the happenings around me” says Sreerupa Ghosh, a bubbly girl in her early 20s.
“In fact, I walked in a procession to protest Mamata’s agitation against the Nano factory.But when I saw the likes of Aparna Sen and Joy Goswami support her, I pondered and did some reading up on the issue. I felt I was wrong,” says Ghosh apologetically Mahasweta Debi, niece of filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak and ex-wife of famous Bengali dramatist Bijon Bhattacharya, and theatre personality Saoli Mitra, the daughter of iconic actors Shombhu and Tripti Mitra, are the two most vocal advocates of parivartan or change—the mostspoken word in Bengal since the Singur fiasco of 2006—and they have lent their voice to Didi.
Joining them are the likes of theatre personalities Bibhas Chakraborty, Koushik Sen, Bratya Basu and Arpita Ghosh, filmmaker Aparna Sen, artist Jogen Choudhury and Suvaprasanna, educationist Sunanda Sanyal, ex-bureaucrat Debabrata Bandyopadhyay and ex-CBI boss Upen Biswas who are leading a number of activists who swarmed around Mamata to boost her campaign against the Left.
What began as a compulsive but cosmetic soiree of the Bengali intelligentsia during initial days of the Singur movement, snowballed during Mamata Banerjee’s 26-day fast in December 2006 into a compelling orchestra, that rang heavily on the peoples’ ears and posed a serious threat to the Left establishment that failed to string up a credible counterpoint—then and ever since.
In Bengal, the intelligensia’s non-electoral voice has the power not only to sway the bhadralok, but the masses as well—a factor the CPM is worried about
The decline of Left support in the state began between December 1 and 26, 2006; Didi’s fast-untodeath in downtown Kolkata over the forcible acquisition of land for the Tatas’ Nano factory in Singur drew a large number of faces, who, till then were well-known for their affiliation to Left ideology, if not parties—to support Mamata.
Once seen as a lumpen element who they couldn’t identify with, the bhadralok, and those the bhadralok admired were beside Didi. Literally and in hordes
Mamata was accepted as the leader Bengal was waiting for, and the clamor for change was now a cultural collective.
As elections approached, the culture czars disrobed themselves of the apolitical garb they so conspicuously flaunted, and gave a clarion call for a regime change under the subaltern figurehead they so carefully eschewed.
Debabrata Bandyopadhyay, former WB Land Revenue Secretary and a former pro-Left essayist is vehement about Singur.
“Hindusthan Motors were given 750 acres to build a factory by BC Roy in the ’50s (to produce Ambassador cars), of which they used only 300 acres
The rest 450 acres are lying fallow. Why couldn’t the government choose this spot, next to the Eastern Railway mainline and the Hoogly river, to set up the factory. They would have got a ready-made infrastructure, ancillaries, and a trained workforce,” he says indignantly.
“The Maruti factory at Gurgaon is on about 300 acres, why do the Tata’s need 1,000 for their Nano plant?” he queries, indicating to the rumours that much of the land was supposed to be developed by the Tata’s as real estate.
Sunando Sanyal, educator, had taken the leap much earlier. “Four of us, inspired by the late Bibhutibhushan Nandy, ex-RAW officer, and Amlan Dutta, economist, formed the Gana Mukti Parishad and acted as independent observers during the polls of 2005 in Salt Lake.
The wide-spread rigging we saw was devastating,” he recounts.
Continuing, he says that they decided then that well-meaning members civil society had to take up cudgels to save the state.
As for the present scenario, “Mamata is a rare individual—she can’t be bought, or so we believe. That’s why we’ve all come out in open support of her
” He says Mamata, having suffered the worst ignominy in CPM hands, was the only person resolute enough to oppose them “till death.”
]Bratya Basu and Upen Biswas are TMC candidates for the assembly polls, and are tipped to be promoted from Mamata’s kitchen cabinet to the constitutional one if and when the TMC wins.
After Calcutta’s intelligensia took to the streets protesting Nandigram violence, texting people to join in what became a huge apolitical rally, the CPM’s rally with Sunil Gangopadhyay, Mrinal Sen and Soumitra Chattopadhyay did not strike a chord.
Sen and Chattopadhyay have kept away from CPM events ever since. The only ones that take part in CPM rallies are C-grade artists like Badsha Maitra and Arindam Sil from D-grade Bengali soaps that are usually watched by the lower classes.
The CPM stands to lose its head in Bengal this time, but may already have lost its mind.