The municipal elections suggest that there is a “Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi” (SBKBT) syndrome at work in Bengal politics. An unchanging coalition being in power for over thirty years defies not merely the logic of democracy, but every other semblance of logic as well. It reminds one of SBKBT which forced its inanity upon the tired viewers for years on the assumption that the idiot box was meant to produce idiots. The market culture finally played a curative role of sorts in the case of SBKBT. One suspects that its TRP crashed irretrievably with profit seeking advertisers turning wary of patronizing the serial.
Marxists detect skeleton packed cupboards in every corner of a market society. Consequently, free competition was banished from Bengal, including the freedom of democratic choice ever since their arrival.
Yet, matters were not appalling throughout the Marxists’ tenure in Bengal. They had cleansed the system of the misrule by their predecessors. Bengal got its land reform policy. The lot of the rural poor improved in the early days and the panchayat system was used for common good.
Was this not the case with SBKBT as well? It did start with a bang, but after an overstretched run, it departed with a whimper. The producers served the same wine in ever newer bottles, but the viewers finally refused to accept it as bubbling champagne. The idiot box failed to produce idiots!
The Marxists too did not perceive that the benefits of land redistribution would peter out. As farmers’ families expanded in size, land and income per head declined. But the panchayats were manned by Marxist musclemen to perpetuate the myth of classless development, following the idiot box model.
In the urban centres, the rulers had little idea about industrialization except for the half digested Marxist theories they applied to destroy growth possibilities. And to improve the coercion driven TRP, they nurtured militant trade unionism. Their failure to generate industrial progress was carefully hidden under a shroud of empty slogans. Armed with these, the torch bearers made inroads into every form of public utility, including hospitals, schools, colleges and universities. Kolkata earned renown for the ugly wall graffiti that greeted visitors, all in the name of the underprivileged! City roads have remained choked up by hawkers, public transport is allowed to violate every norm of safety and the police force has been reduced to a box full of tin soldiers. Even court verdicts against street congestion have been violated with impunity. The arrogance of power spread from the masters to the servants and the result is a destruction of work culture.
By the time sense dawned, the obstructionist policies had proceeded too far and, as Singur demonstrated, the rulers’ strategies themselves were successfully employed, even if guided by incorrect economics, to lead to their undoing. And with incompetence ruling the roost in every sphere of life, along with vast pockets of unemployment, people were bound to feel the pinch someday or the other. Even the Marxist cadre began to detect the absurdity of the promises made by leaders who refused to call it a day and allow fresh blood to flow into the system.
Now, much in the spirit of SBKBT, the municipal elections point out that an army of idiots has not emerged to help perpetuate the Marxist mega-rule. Few appear to exist in the state that are willing to watch the show anymore. Having endured things for more than thirty years and sensing that the once mighty rulers are a spent force, Bengal is about to pass a verdict against the rulers. What is particularly painful for the Left Front is that even the telltale improvements in municipal administration under their rule did not attract the voters’ sympathy.
Interestingly enough, in the TV serial world, one has not come across productions so far that are radically different from SBKBT. In the political sphere too, we need to wait and watch. Is it possible for Kokata to turn into London? If so, where will this oriental London hide its hawker jammed roads? Will Bengal metamorphose into Switzerland? If it does, will the black money stashed away in Swiss banks flow into the state?
[Published as a Guest column in the Hindustan Times, Kolkata edition, June 6, 2010.]