There’s something eerily sad about the CPI(M) in the kingdom of Bengal these days. It’s finally become a faithful reflection of the state that it has, over the years, driven into the alluvial ground — not singlehandedly, as romanticised notions of the Left Front as horsemen of the Apocalypse would have us believe, but with help from people like myself who didn’t even know that they were part and parcel of Left Front-crafted furniture.
I was six when Jyoti Basu was first sworn in as chief minister. At 39, with Jyoti-babu having gone to the Great Brigade Parade Ground in the Sky in January and all signs pointing to the departure lounge for the CPI(M)-led government, I sense the official end of the more eventful part of my life.
All this doesn’t mean that I’m not overjoyed about this week’s results in Bengal’s civic polls. On the contrary. More than three decades of uninterrupted rule by the same bunch of incompetent and heartless (a potent mix) commissars has been as healthy as a singular diet of deep fried fish without it being anywhere as tasty. For those of my generation, the CPI(M) was the only Establishment we knew. The genuine possibility of the Left not ruling Bengal next year is as surreal to me as that of America suddenly becoming a Third World nation to a card-carrying communist.
Which is why I found it exceedingly odd when I moved to Delhi — the very same year that Mamata Banerjee formed her own party after being expelled from the Congress — to find that the anti-Establishmentwallas in the ‘rest of India’ were raging against the ‘fascist’ BJP and ‘hegemonic’ America. These were the very two epithets we used to mutter while vaguely aligning ourselves with East European dissidents who were against Stalinists in their own backyards. The very fact that we muttered and not raged, that we were ‘non-political’ not ‘committed’, fed our youthful notions of being against the all-encompassing ‘Party’. Nobody even thought that it could be made to get off its mutant pony.
So not so strangely, the only time I cast my Bengal assembly vote, I voted CPI(M). This was partly because my family voted CPI(M) — not out of a terrible ideological need but because all the Congressmen we knew were oily creatures and because some of the CPI(M) fellows we knew were ‘people like us’. This was, of course, incredibly simplistic and the whole point of the Left’s game — making ‘class’ an atavistic issue. It was a great con.
But, but... and here’s why I sound like I’m still suffering from Stockholm syndrome and would like to give Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee a hug and a cigarette. Even though I never got hoodwinked into believing words like ‘class enemy’, I did end up feeling that people who were too ‘off the mark’ — people who sent their kids abroad, who were ‘too rich’, who despised people because ‘they looked shabby’ (the same sort who baulk at the idea of Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee today) — were, well, despicable people. But the Left leadership didn’t care two hoots about all this rubbish. How else, after the ‘miracle’ of land reforms conducted in the same year when Aryabhatta invented the zero, can Bengal’s towns and villages be the most backward in the country today, their people the least aware that they live in pitiable conditions they don’t need to live in? The whole ‘people’s democracy’ shebang was a grand strategy to make people suspect progress, reject the notion of better living, make anyone with another plan the bogeyman, and perpetuate a system that bartered ‘safety’ for undivided loyalty.
Well, the 2011 assembly polls are still a corner away and the mandate of the 16 per cent of Bengal’s 50 million voters who participated in last week’s civic polls doesn’t make a hummable ‘Goodbye Comrades’ theme song yet. But the cat is out of the bag. The fact that the Left is likely to be out of power next year is as believable as global warming now.
I’ll pay good money to hear the groaning sound of a state’s administrative machinery — bureaucrats, police, teachers, operators etc — swivelling to cater to a new set of masters while retaining the same snivelling ways. But I hope to be close at hand when something as entrenched a part of Bengal’s scenery as the Left Front does topple. It’ll be the sawing off of a gangrenous leg, a leg that I, like many others, used to run away from the city and the state where we lived and which we loved.