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THE PROMISED LAND

The desire for change among the people of West Bengal can be seen reflected in the forward-looking actions of the political parties in the state

It is a common assumption in West Bengal that political parties are the agents of all changes in society, good, bad or indifferent. It could be argued to counter such a position that political parties are no more than the mirrors of society. Society makes political parties rather than the other way round. Thus as the nature of society changes, as society’s preoccupations and priorities are altered, the character and the programme of political parties also undergo a transformation. The scale of this transformation can be measured by the fact that the clearance of the shanties along the Beliaghata Canal passed off peacefully without any organized protest led by any of the major political parties. Even a few years ago such an event would have been inconceivable. The left government and the Calcutta Municipal Corporation led by Mr Subrata Mukherjee of the Trinamool Congress joined hands to make the clearance possible.

The absence of protest in a city where demonstrations and mob hysteria are a dime a dozen can only be explained by the gradual change taking place in society. Tired of stagnation and mindless discontent, inhabitants of West Bengal are moving into a different and more constructive gear. Issues relating to investment and economic development are acquiring their rightful place on top of the agenda for the future. To an extent, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) under Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has caught this mood. Mr Bhattacharjee and his comrades in Alimuddin Street have realized it is no longer possible to lead West Bengal on a platform of agitation and protest. The people want change, a change for the better. This need can no longer be met by populist gestures. It demands actions that may even adversely affect a few people. This realization may have dawned on the leader who in the recent past had made street-level disruption into a fine art: Ms Mamata Banerjee. She was conspicuous by not only her absence — she was apparently unwell — but also by her uncharacteristic silence.

The coming together of the left and its arch-enemy, Ms Banerjee, is not a coincidence or even a coming together on a matter of mutual convenience. On the contrary, it is a necessary consequence of societal compulsions. These compulsions — if this is not an over-hasty conclusion — are likely to change West Bengal. Political parties have so far protested against prevailing conditions; the point, however, is to change them. The motor for that reformation does not lie within the parties but in society. The process has started and it looks as if political parties are willing to push things along. The pace of change is slow, reversal of history always is. Yet, to echo the words of a scientist, it moves. There is thus a glimmer of hope for the people of the state. They can at least see the gate that will take them out of Jurassic Park.

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