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Voters, make your choice count

Maharashtra is soon to go to the polls to choose a new state government, even as its political parties break up and make up and lead themselves into a merry little dance. A delightful little game of bargaining and entitlement is being played out in front of the voter’s eyes. The voter ought to know everything there is to know about all the politicians involved, because they have exposed themselves in every way possible for years now.

The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress vanquished the megalithic Left Front in 2011. She promised “poriborton” or “change”. But as it turned out, the main change was in the face of the boss. The decay and the lethargy continued. File PicThe Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress vanquished the megalithic Left Front in 2011. She promised “poriborton” or “change”. But as it turned out, the main change was in the face of the boss. The decay and the lethargy continued. File Pic

And yet, as the Lok Sabha results showed, hope springs eternal even in the most cynical corners of our minds.

But hope can turn horribly wrong, as the people of Bengal have found over the last three years. They finally roused themselves from lethargy, and from a 34-year-old rut, to vote for change. Sadly, 34 years before that, they had voted for change and with hope too. But they forgot one basic lesson if you don’t keep politicians on their toes, they will grind you to the dust.

The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress vanquished the megalithic Left Front in 2011. She promised “poriborton” or “change”. But as it turned out, the main change was in the face of the boss. The decay and the lethargy continued. The new boss co-opted all the anti-social elements who belonged to the old boss. Everything that anyone says about the new boss, Mamata Banerjee, is seen as a personal insult and part of some gigantic Left-Maoist conspiracy. This gives ample opportunity to the goons who used to belong to the Left Front to intimidate, harass or hurt those who are accused of belonging to the Left Front.

What you have in Bengal then is the complete collapse of all systems. Whimsical schemes have replaced rebuilding activity and any questions are met with whopping lies of how Bengal is ahead in all indices. Not even Gujarat, under Narendra Modi, made such tall claims and even then, Gujarat is certainly close to the top with industrial strength. Meanwhile, the webs spun by chit funds and other illegal operations spread from government department to department with immunity. Millions give their money to crooks because there is no one else around.

With a paranoid conspiracy theorist government in power, Bengal is fast realising that hope can be a shifty mistress. And then there’s despair, which is even worse.

Which is why it is heartening to see the students of Bengal, led by those of Jadavpur University, standing up for themselves against an unsatisfactory and callous administration. A female student was molested in a Jadavpur University hostel. The students demanded action and justice. The vice-chancellor decided not to engage with them and called the police. The students got thrashed by the police. The injustice of the situation did not occur to the administration because the now familiar paranoia kicked in. It was all a conspiracy against the government where everyone else was to blame.

Over 100,000 students walked in peaceful protest through the streets of Kolkata. All they want is justice for the molested student and for the university to set up the relevant sexual harassment committee. Mamata Banerjee did not think it necessary to say a word, but her nephew kindly pointed out that the students were upset because “drugs and liquor” had been found on the campus. Many other government supporters immediately questioned wardrobe choices made by female students. Never let the seriousness of any situation deflect you from moral policing or misogyny is now the chosen, mandatory Indian political position, regardless in fact of party.

Is it fair to say that the people of Bengal are responsible for the collapse of their state? Even though they voted with hope and change in mind in 2011, as indeed they had in 1977? The lesson for India lies in the fall of Bengal. Vote often. Vote for change often. And never allow anyone to become complacent. The choices before Maharahtra are dire. But if they are the only choices you have, make them work. Don’t fall asleep for the next 30 years to find that the rot of Bengal has spread past the Mahratta Ditch.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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