People power wins
The verdict in West Bengal and other Indian states reveals that mere sloganeering and tall claims will not work anymore. Our people have learnt a lesson and are speaking out now — in the only way that counts
Facing the most powerful onslaught of unlimited money power and muscle; the infectious virus of communalism and religious hegemony; a blatant abuse of governmental machinery, various police and paramilitary forces; as also a myriad group of central enforcement agencies and a large section of a biased and obsequious national media; West Bengal has nonetheless proven that the common man still has the gumption and capability to defeat even the most powerful forces around.
Over the last many months, we also witnessed politicking calisthenics being brought to play in most convoluted and contorted ways, as hordes of Trinamool Congress (TMC) MLAs were 'broken' and coerced to jump ship. But West Bengal obviously had others things in mind, especially its women, who make up around 50 per cent of the total of 7.33 crore voters in the state. It is perhaps also due to this number of women voters that TMC leader and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's biggest slogan in the campaign—"that the people of West Bengal want their own daughter"—has come up trumps, against what seemed to be insurmountable odds.
Some faith restored
And it is not just the people of West Bengal. This round of assembly elections in five Indian states (sic; Puducherry is a Union Territory) has shown us that a vast section of India's common, Earthy citizens have sent out an ardent message nationally; that no matter how powerful any political party or its electoral tactics, the common man and woman on the ground will always have the last word, as also the last laugh. The verdict in these Assembly Elections, especially in West Bengal, has sent out an unambiguous message, one that has restored people's faith in democracy to a great extent, a faith that had been waning for a while.
For some reason, the lead-up to the elections in West Bengal reminds one of World War II, in particular Joseph Goebbels, German politician and Adolf Hilter's Reichminister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. Goebbels was known for public-speaking skills and his deeply virulent anti-Semitism, evident in his openly-voiced views. But over time, even Goebbels' campaign of spreading lies and hatred amid communities fell by the wayside as the truth dawned on the masses.
Given this verdict in West Bengal, a revisit to the 2019 General Elections becomes essential, because the BJP romped ahead in 121 constituencies by number of votes garnered. In the 2021 assembly elections, that popular vote has seen a fall of around 25 per cent. This is a telling indicator that the common man should not be taken for granted or fed untruths, more so those that will stand exposed over time.
Starry, scar-ry battle
If we focus on West Bengal, the eventual outcome is particularly revealing as it shows that sheer power, presence of muscle and gimmicks don't always do the trick or pull out the proverbial rabbit from the hat. Ground-level problems, emotional realities and the people's voice also have to be paid heed to. If we talk pure muscle, the BJP had Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, no less, along with many central Cabinet Ministers and leading Chief Ministers, who together held over 100 rallies in West Bengal alone.
At the height of the election campaign, over 140 chartered flights were being operated out of airports in West Bengal on a daily basis, transporting these political bigwigs to various parts of the state to hold massive election rallies. Caution was thrown to the winds as the said rallies thumbed a nose at the Coronavirus pandemic. They also raised a national and international hue and cry over the dangers of a second wave of the dreaded pandemic in India. Though just a few months old, that's all history now, for the present, grim reality is that the mere imposition of outsiders and raw muscle doesn't always guarantee the desired outcome—it has only fanned the fire in the belly of a virus that was waiting for an opportunity, and how we have helped it!
The results across the five electoral centers show that people now understand that the politics of division is not sustainable in the longer run and that over-intrusiveness can bring about quite the opposite result, especially as sensibility sets in and the real strength of society comes into play.
No wisdom or foresight
I mentioned COVID-19 and its re-birth. Here's how. As has now been observed by various High Courts across the country and even by the Hon'ble Supreme Court, the Election Commission may have a lot to answer for and explain over the next few weeks. Why and how were these assembly elections held in the manner that they were, staggered and over long-drawn phases, when the medical fraternity was repeatedly sending out panic warnings on the possible resurgence of the pandemic and a deadly second wave? There are no answers to be had from anyone that matters. The bluster and ranting is over; it is time for silence, it seems.
Across West Bengal, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and Puducherry, repeated rounds of large gatherings were allowed as campaigning hit a mad frenzy and people turned up in their thousands to listen to the political glitterati who descended upon their quiet and bucolic districts and villages, accompanied by their cronies and lackeys. The results are clear to see now. The day the election results were declared, yesterday, these five electoral hot-spots were branded as 'COVID-19 hot-spots', with the number of infected people skyrocketing by between 1,000 per cent and 3,000 per cent. What price are we willing to pay to win the right to rule? Those dying of the virus are keeping pace.
While the powers-that-be today refuse to acknowledge or publicly speak on the deadly virus that the country has almost been purposely thrown into, the international media has turned India into a laughing stock, a country that people are being asked to skirt clear of. Sure, many countries are rushing aid to India, but they are also sealing off their borders to people coming in from India. The ban imposed by the United States begins tomorrow; and its nationals have been fleeing India over the last few days, some even coughing up Rs 20 lakh for a Business Class ticket to somehow reach anywhere in the US. What a shambles!
What of our people?
And what of the people in these five electoral centers, who will now bear the brunt of this merciless virus for months to come, with infection and fatality numbers already hitting world records? Who shall answer for all of this? More important, why was this allowed to happen? Was it plain myopia, a total lack of a grip on reality despite repeated warnings, or was it a decided approach to march on regardless of the misery and anguish that our very own people may face?
Maharashtra and Delhi have already been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last few months, as hospitals scream and beg for oxygen, ventilators and beds, and people languish on stretchers or on the roads outside, gasping for breath. In the 14 months leading up to the second round of lockdowns, what were we doing other than holding election rallies and Kumbh Melas? Frighteningly still, why did we create more hot-spots and death zones for our very own?
Someone, somewhere has to answer.
The writer is a communications consultant and a clinical analyst. firstname.lastname@example.org
Views expressed are personal