As the end of over three decades of Communist rule in West Bengal looms nearer, many people in the state are worried. Habits acquired during those decades would be hard to give up. Babus in Writers’ Buildings are a particularly nervous lot. “We might even have to work,” whispered a grizzled babu who remembered the days before the communists took over, going pale at the unpleasant prospect. His younger colleagues looked at him in alarm. “What is work?” one of them asked me wonderingly, but I was unable to enlighten him, being as clueless about it as he was.
Others are concerned that the number of holidays may be curtailed. “We’re number one in the country when it comes to bandhs,” pointed out an office worker proudly. She hoped that Mamata Didi would ensure that the people’s right to bandhs would be respected.
People are concerned they may have to learn an entirely new language. “All these years we’ve been using words like ‘proletariat’ and ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘running dogs of capitalism’ and ‘imperialist stooges’ and they’ve become part of our language. But now we’ll have to learn new words and slogans”, said a regular rally-goer. Last seen, she was practising saying again and again, “Stay cool, stay cool, the ballot will go to Trinamool.”
Even the painters are concerned. “I’ve been painting pictures of Marx, Engels and Lenin for so many years I’ve forgotten how to paint anyone else,” lamented a wall painter. A friend of his advised him to lengthen Marx’s beard a bit. “That way,” he explained, “he could be mistaken for Rabindranath Tagore.” A concerned father who had enrolled his daughter in the CPI(M) at an early age so that she could become a college teacher was very confused. “What will she do now?” he asked. “Is there any other way of becoming a teacher?”
Many are shocked at the prospect of development. “Imagine,” said an old Kolkata resident, shaking his head despondently, “imagine hundreds of industries springing up in the city, wide new roads, sleek high-rises and a complete makeover of all our rundown areas.” “Why,” he added, “we might soon end up as just another rapidly developing Indian city. That would
be terrible.” Red businessmen who used to get fat contracts from the CPI(M) government are defecting en masse to the Trinamool. “For ideological reasons, of course,” clarified a crony capitalist.
Others bemoan the inevitable change in street names. If Didi comes to power it’s very likely she will rename roads such as Lenin Sarani or Ho Chi Minh street or Karl Marx Sarani, with some saying that all of them are likely to be called Tagore Avenue, which might create some confusion.
But most people are banking on Didi’s respect for local values. “We have a glorious tradition of rebellion, stretching back to the days when our freedom fighters chucked bombs at British officials, missed them and hit their wives,” said a historian. “Mamata shares in that rebellious tradition, having opposed SEZs, land acquisition, privatisation, etc. Hopefully, that will continue.” A pipe gun manufacturer said he had no doubt his business was going to thrive. “Didi will never interfere with our violent political culture,” he said, adding that strikes, bandhs and street-jamming processions are all irreplaceable parts of their way of life.
For the next few weeks, though, the political fight will be replaced by another old Kolkata rivalry. “Whom does Didi support, Brazil or Argentina?” asked an Argentina fan menacingly.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint
The views expressed by the author are personal