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Brand Buddha wows middle class

This election, the city is in a strange mood. For it is in the throes of a change, finds Archis Mohan.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2006 18:29 IST

Middle class is not a myth. Kolkata lives to show it.

This election, the city is in a strange mood. For it is in the throes of a change.

Pollution and unruly cabbies apart, there's very little an old-timer can identify with.

Since patriarch Jyoti Basu abdicated office months before the 2001 Assembly polls, the city has hurtled along the modernization road. Flyovers that took years to build now stand tall.

The neighbourhood bazaars have given way to supermarkets and malls — with global retail giants vying for entry. The Bengali babu — staple election fodder of the Left — is a new man. He exudes hope. And his mascot is chief minister Buddhadev Bhattacharjee.

But the Left's poster boy faces a strange dichotomy. The urban expectations do match those in the villages. Buddha and his party take great pains to explain to the rural voters that the government has not ignored them. No one knows if this assurance cuts ice.

This time, the focus is the city. And the early signs augur well. The middle class is smiling and the barbs are muted.

"There has been a marked change in the attitude of the common Kolkatan. It's a new dawn, if not for him, at least for his children," says Dr Saikat Guha, who has is back home after a long stint outside to find the health sector booming.

The economy has perked up. The roads are teeming with new cars and gleaming motorcycles. New high-rise blocks and satellite townships dot fringes like Salt Lake and Rajarhat. Swank eateries stand cheek by jowl.

Vehicle and home loan kiosks are up and everywhere. The conservative Bengali has let down his guard. West ern wears are being sold off the racks faster than veggies. And couples make bold statements at Chowringhee and Park Street.

Says retired professor Manindra Ghosh: "A Kolkatan now feels part of the pan Indian middle class despite the change in name and the curbs on teaching English." But the Left has undone some of that. It recently brought back English at the primary level.

The boom is all-pervasive — from industries to the small screen. BPO is the new buzzword and channels crowd the box. "Educated Bengalis need not go to Delhi or Bangalore to find work. They can find IT jobs near home," says Sarthak Barik, an IT professional.

The roadmap has more townships, a new metro, hotels and industries in store. It also gives the Opposition the much-needed stick. The reds are being dubbed anti-farmers.

It's all in the game and the Left knows it.