Voters have the option of making a rational choice based on direct, lived experiences of two regimes.
Kolkata: The election in West Bengal this year is definitely not a one horse race. A the election, staggered over seven days and six phases, gets into the final stretch, it is sinking in that voters actually have a choice. There is an appraisal that can be done, based on direct lived experience on how the two sides in this contest – the incumbent and the opposition – have delivered on their promises, agendas and in meeting the expectations of voters. There is a yardstick and a track record.
Voters have the option of making a rational choice based on direct, lived experiences of two regimes. West Bengal can therefore decide to join the rest of India as a state that calculates what a government does and how it does so, or it can continue to remain an aberration, supporting the ruling regime till there is another tsunami. The decision will be based on the opportunity cost of replacing the ruling regime and choosing the new unthinkable alliance of the Congress and the Communist Party of India Marxist-led Left Front. It will be about deciding which regime will work best for the next five years to deliver on millennial voter expectations.
This is an entirely new experience for West Bengal. Till 2011, voters had no real choice as there was really only the ruling side, the Left. The Congress as opposition was too weak and its leadership could not resurrect itself, and so failed to capture the public imagination and offer an alternative to voters.
The absence of a viable alternative and opposition kept the Left Front in power for six terms. But that began to change immediately after the 2006 elections. Mamata Banerjee launched her war to win by taking on the CPI-M’s flagship project, the Singur factory for manufacturing Nano cars, and turning it into a do or die battle over rights – the right to control the disposal of land by the owner/occupier versus the might of a government to acquire and sell it for other purposes. That battle expanded and turned into irresistible momentum for paribartan (change).
The Trinamool Congress became a party that grew exponentially, with breakaways from the parent Congress. It captured public imagination because it was new, inexperienced and carried no baggage of the past. Encumbered by its acts of omission and commission, and the inevitable abuses that occurred during its long tenure in power, the CPI-M was a target that was easy to hit.
What worked for Mamata Banerjee after 2006 was the youthfulness of the electorate, which had grown up under the CPI-M’s watch. Having never experienced a change, the Trinamool Congress was immensely attractive as it gained the mass support that converted it from a party of agitation to a party that offered an alternative.
Jobs, employment opportunity, abuse of power and corruption are the top issues on the agenda for the educated, smart phone enabled and internet savvy young people who questioned Mamata Banerjee and Surya Kanta Mishra, CPI-M’s state party boss and chief minister in waiting, via Facebook chat and Google Hangout interactions. Poised, competitive, aspiring and impatient, the millennial generation have adapted to migration and working in the gig economy – not just the educated and the technically qualified, but also the unskilled.
The successful collaboration during the campaign and polling periods of the unthinkable alliance between the Congress and the CPI-M reflects this change of attitude more vividly than anything else. The barriers of political purity so staunchly guarded by the CPI-M have broken down, because for the millennials, it does not really matter which colour flag wins, so long as the winner delivers on their expectations. And expectations can mean many things – cultural and social values, gender, ideologies, though not necessarily defined as Left, Right or Centre. This could explain why the new icons of West Bengal – Tumpa and Mousumi Kayal from Kamduni, Pratima Dutta from Bally, Ambikesh Mahapatra from Jadavpur University, Debashree Gosh of Halishahar – have joined the Save Democracy Forum instead of seeking shelter after being victims of the abuse of power under the opposition flag.