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HISTORIC THUNDER

Friday afternoon, Mamata Banerjee’s long march to “liberate” Bengal from the world’s longest democratically elected communist rule ended in a green revolution that was reminiscent of the revolutions — velvet, orange, rose, et al — that once felled the Berlin Wall and one communist regime in eastern Europe after another.

The big difference is this: none of those revolutions, except perhaps the one led by Lech Walesa’s Solidarity in Poland, was the making of a single leader the way the one in Calcutta has been Mamata’s very own.

It was in the making for several years, but the way it gathered momentum in the last few weeks was nothing short of a blitzkrieg that knocked the supposedly mighty edifice of the CPM down without the party leaders having a clue to what was about to hit them.

She began her campaign to end the CPM’s rule with the slogan: “Now’s the time” — that became the call to action in Prague’s Velvet Revolution. It proved illusory in 2001 but it has happened now.

But the slogan will take on a completely different meaning now. From now onwards, her years of street fight will be yesterday’s story. Both for Bengal and for Mamata, the story that unfolds from this morning has to be about her vision and work to create a tomorrow. It is not the ordinary change of government that comes and goes with every election, changing little in people’s lives.

For everything that she plans to do, she may have to undo plenty of things. The historic turnabout of the traditionally Leftist Bengal to her side is clear evidence that she has to reverse many of the supposedly irreversible legacies that have led to Bengal’s economic and social decline.

The support she now has can no longer be attributed to just the negative vote against the Left. That may have been the case for a long time in her political career. But her huge victory this time suggests that, apart from wanting the CPM to go, the people also have great expectations from her.

Many of these expectations are about undoing things that made the people so angry with the CPM and so despairing of Bengal under it. Before she does anything to bring industries to Bengal, create jobs or dismantle the unconstitutional and illegal power structures created by the CPM, the people would like her to end the tyrannical “party society” that had its stranglehold on every aspect of the common people’s lives everywhere in Bengal. The breaking of the party society would make the people breathe more freely, especially in the villages.

This party-first culture crippled many things — economy, health services, the police and the administration. But its most damaging assault was on education which, under the long Left rule, became a matter of petty, sectarian politics that turned teachers’ bodies — in schools, colleges and universities — into what Chinese communists call “work units” or “propaganda teams”.

One of the first things she might need to undo is this complete politicisation of education in Bengal. The irony is that the poor and the ordinary people were the worst victims of this suicidal policy. The more affluent, let alone the rich, could escape this easily — by just leaving Bengal.

The same discrimination against the poor happened with the Left’s decision to abolish English from primary school curricula and to generally lower the standards of education in the name of “democratisation”.

It created a new class division between those who were trapped in the Left’s education system and those who had the means to beat it.

The Left could use the teachers to serve its politics mainly by raising their salaries. It was a quid pro quo. Given the state of the coffers of the Bengal government, Mamata might have to seriously think whether the state should carry on with the burden of paying teachers’ salaries or think of other means to fund education at all levels.

But freeing Bengal from the partisan spirit will involve undoing things in many other areas. There would be many analyses on what went wrong with the CPM and Bengal under it. A very comprehensive answer is that the bottom of the malady lay in the CPM equating the government with the party. Governance or the administration became a matter not of law or public interest, but of partisan considerations. It was not the case in the early years of Left rule. But the division between the party and the people increased in direct proportion to the length of the CPM rule.

The election results show that Mamata had increasingly succeeded in reaching out to the people, just as the CPM increasingly lost touch with them. But now, she has to ensure that the people’s interests do not turn out to mean the interests of the Trinamul Congress or its leaders.

The people have placed their hope and faith in her to change this. Her mission will be seriously affected if the Trinamul Congress leaders at local levels continue to do, rather than undo, the wrongs that the CPM did to the people.

The people will give her time to try and meet their expectations. It is not as if they expect her to announce a bagful of new projects — in industry, agriculture, health or education — within days of entering Writers’ Buildings.

But the early signals —whether in favour of an economic or educational renewal or for a fear-free life for the ordinary villager — will be a significant indication for hopes for Bengal’s future.

She will achieve half her mission if she can restore confidence in Bengal’s future — among business classes, civil society, academic and professional elite inside and outside the state and, most important, among the ordinary people.

“One definition of a liberated country,” wrote Timothy Garton Ash, one of the best-known chroniclers of the fall of communism in eastern Europe, in his latest book, Facts Are Subversive, “is a place that people come back to rather than leave.”

Too many have left Bengal for many years, seeing no hope for themselves or their children in the state. How long she takes to bring that sense of liberation to Bengal is Mamata’s challenge from now on.

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