View: Much like the high-pitched countryside, even the average Nandigram voter has become shameless
“Arrey dada, Pakistan mane Moselman, bujhlen na. Pakistan bolley lokey khaye, “I got my first tutorial on layouts at the local tea stall in Hazrakata Bazzar. Until then, my urban sensibility had failed to understand Pakistan as a euphemism for Muslims. Apparently such a nickname wins votes: just say Pakistan and people will buy it. At the same place in this key crossroads, on an equally heavy morning in March 2007, the villagers had forgotten their caste or their creed to fight together against the state police and the CPM hooligans. They dug roads and blocked the traffic lane with tree trunks while some continued to die in the shootings.
This cradle of the subordinate struggle, which led to poriborton (change) in the state after 34 years, is today a deeply fractured group of 138 villages. The religious fault lines are too sharp to miss in the 355 stalls this election season. VVIP’s constituency went to the polls on Thursday after nearly three months of noisy countryside by the chief minister Mamata banerjee and his former acolyte who became Suvendu Adhikari, polarizing the population.
Much like the pitched campaign, even the average voter has become shameless and loud. I grew up in Bengal where village voters rarely spoke backwards. Remember the 2006 Trinamool Whisper campaign as they approached their election victory? It was chup chaap phuley chaap – Bangla to go and vote silently for the flower (TMC symbol).
For more than three decades, the strategy of the left “elaka dokhol” has been one of its most powerful weapons. The CPM would take control of entire areas – villages, panchayats, sometimes even districts – with its workers. In true Stalinist fashion, such territorial grip also saw cadres recruited to spy on neighbors and report every conversation, opinion or incidental remark to the dreaded local committee. People loyal to the party were encouraged to vote, those with questionable loyalty were simply ordered to stay away. The cadres were given powers and privileges in local administrative bodies, their relatives obtained sarkari jobs or pocketed state largesse through public works contracts.
The harmad – Bangla for armada – was the arm of the CPM for organized gang violence. The ruling party may have changed, but the harmad remains. They just changed their political color. Today they are known as Trinamool-er Tolabaaj (the Trinamool extortionist), a disorganized motley of morons.
But staying silent is no longer an option for people. “Chup amra aar thakbo naa. Didi amader bhuley gechche (We will no longer remain silent. Didi has forgotten us), ”says Nitai, who followed Adhikari to join the BJP. “Student at Amra University. Amader chakri koi. Gramey shabbai byakar. He simply paraphrased the frustration of many – no jobs, no development. Their once beloved Didi has let them down. “Subhendu da is our Ram, Jai Shri Ram,” says Nitai, as he prepares to join a Amit Shah roadshow on the last day of the campaign. “Pakistan Go Home,” he adds in broken English. The class struggle of the communists has clearly evaporated. To fill the void, a hyper-aggressive caste and community politics have grown their roots.
Thanda Thanda Cool Cool
It is 40 degrees Celsius and blazing.
With a plastered foot, Didi is transported in a wheelchair through the villages. She wears a blue party cap, or has the tip of her white sari wrapped around her head, to protect her from the summer sun. Finally, at 12:30 p.m., Mamata Banerjee loses her cool when she realizes that there is no longer any shade on the mini-stage fitted out for her rally in Sonachura, the epicenter of the peasant movement. 14 years ago. “Dekhechcho ki kharaap bybostha. Eto roddurer modhey jayga ta dhake-o ni…. Etoh roddurer modhey, lokey ashushtho hoye jaabe (What an inadequate arrangement. People will get sick while waiting in the punishing sun), ”she said.
Bisleri’s bottles appear out of nowhere in a desperate attempt to control the damage. An umbrella, however, is much more difficult to organize.
Soon Banerjee is in his elements – making sarcastic jokes, star activists Mithun Chakraborty and Amit Shah and broke into a tirade against his “anti-national, anti-people, anti-poor” opposition. His 15-minute speech ends with a warning: “Shono thanda jol khabey na. Chaya-e boshey, thanda hoye tarpor. Noiley hobe heatstroke. Banerjee’s prescription, even in Shonachura’s brief reunion, is “Thanda thanda cool cool.” The urban bhadralok may scoff, but in rural Bengal her personality remains largely cult. Sometimes stern matron, sometimes an endearing older sister, even her reproaches seem well-intentioned.
Trinamool’s multiple social schemes and cash grants for ‘Ma-Bon’ (mothers and sisters) – Kanyashree, Sabuj Saathi, Sastha Saathi – further solidified his appeal with 49% of the state’s electorate, many of them would vote for their mercurial matriarch without soliciting the opinion of the men of their household.
This demographic group – 1.23 lakh female voters in Nandigram out of a total of 2.57 lakh – will dare to break free. “Didi is Durga and the Royal Bengal Tigress,” says Sunanda Manna, near the Tekhali Bridge. For her and her two teenage daughters, both beneficiaries of TMC programs, Banerjee embodies empowerment in the midst of a man. “Women just love it.”
The other Didi
While having a quick bhaat-maach lunch at the Zeeshan Hotel, I share a table with a CPM volunteer visiting Nandigram from the nearby town of Haldia to make a canvas for young leftist candidate Minakshi. Mukherjee and take part in a rickshaw rally that will see even the octogenarian president of the Left Front Biman Bose. “I hope they send us back in an air-conditioned car,” she said. “But they don’t have any money to spend on us.”
Money and muscle bought both sarees, songs, t-shirts and other pre-ballot blitzes from the TMC and BJP, but what Mukherjee, the 36-year-old fire-killer president of the Bengal branch of the Indian Youth Democratic Federation and CPM candidate- The Congress-Indian Secular Front Alliance has courage that no currency can buy. Campaigning tirelessly, door-to-door, sometimes barefoot on the scorched earth of Nandigram, she did the impossible – wean the back pockets of the traditional left-wing voting bank. They call it “Kajla didi” although the reasoning is fuzzy. Recently, no left-wing leader has dared to enter these neighborhoods (CPM only garnered 9% of the vote in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls). The multiple attempts to abuse her did not lock her up. In fact, this other Didi has become the most sought-after candidate of all her comrades. A new, new left is rising.