Joining the dots
This is the first column of the still frozen-fresh new year so I’m going to follow the ritual of making impossible conjectures about the months ahead, and predictions that are bound to fail. To give a false structure to this totally random list, I’m going to start with the local, that is, Calcutta and Bengal, and move to the national. To try and cover all possible outcomes, I’m going to divide each part into three sections: the dire/nightmarish, the probable/boring, and the fantastical, aka hallucinogenic drug-induced optimism.
Dire: Even as the dark night of the later CPI(M) rule recedes, the newer, even thicker night will, finally, totally swallow the brief, measly dawn. If you think things have been bad over the last year-and-a-half, just wait for the next 18 months. The taxi drivers will only be quiet till the fuel prices go up again. It’s rumoured the cops haven’t been paid their DA for some months. Various gangsters across the city have reportedly held back on the turf wars on account of the fading Trinamul Congress honeymoon but that party’s now well and truly over and the rival kingpins are getting restive. The Stabrinx is shooting up all over town, as it is over the state. (What is that, you ask? That’s the Standard Bribe Index which tracks the ghoosh-percentage various officials are charging at any given point in time.) Between paranoia, incompetence, bribery and thuggery, the chaos on the streets of Calcutta will increase. In the meantime, at the edges of the city, the local civil war will gain momentum. Murder and mayhem in the countryside will increase as well. The vast majority of Bengal will grow poorer. But the rich will grow no richer, unlike in some other states. At some point in this year, the unfeeling wealthy of Posh-Bongo will go into a panic — they will begin to devour each other and anyone and anything else they can lay their hands on. All through this epic tragicomedy, the state’s environment will continue to get closer and closer to hell. By the end of 2013, we will be fighting each other, even as we fight for clean air and safe water, even as we flounder in an undeniable emergency with weird new viruses and diseases.
Boring: Things will stay in this finely balanced stasis, like one of those massive old boulders that have stayed on eternal tiptoe, perched on the edge of a deep cliff for millenia. The TMC will hold on to power without too much trouble but that will only mean that it continues to do nothing that resembles a live government administration. KKR will get to the semi-finals and there will be an even bigger party than last year. A Korean firm will come in to replace the one that’s walked out of the metro negotiations. The Koreans will, in turn, not quite have walked out by next December, so that will go into the khaata of 2014.
Happy: The TMC will take a bad hit in the panchayat elections and split even more openly from then onwards. This will force Mamata Banerjee to do stuff, make positive moves, control bribery and thuggery and allow her money-boffins a freer hand to bring in a steadily growing trickle of investment into the state. However, this will not be enough to stop the rise of a fourth, progressive, green alliance that is neither corrupt, nor religio-dictatorial, nor successor-driven in structure, nor in thrall to big money, nor in love with dead and rancid Stalinism. On the streets of the city, people will start to become more caring of each other as the disease of the ‘me first’ attitude starts to die out. All kinds of citizens’ initiatives in the towns and villages will feed into the alternative politics of the fourth front (see above). Come Jan 1, 2014, we will start looking back at ’13 as the year in which the tide finally began to turn for Bengal.
Nightmarish: The huge anger, or actually, the huge amalgamation of different kinds of anger that we’ve seen erupt since the 2G scandal and Anna Hazare’s little jaunt into Delhi, and seen rising yet again post the Delhi gangrape, will find no release and will suppurate just under the skin of Indian society. The Manmohan Singh government will lurch from decision to disastrous decision, trying to hang on to power while it tries to find the silver bullet that will win the next elections. The hawkish elements within the UPA will see the starting of a dangerous brawl on the LoC as a seductive option and drag us into a disastrous mini-war with Pakistan. This will be launched in order to distract people from the corruption scandals, the shame of the Delhi rape-murder-police brutality that is Indiagate, the sordid and relentless destruction of our environment in the name of ‘progress’ and all that ‘Opposition propaganda’ stuff. The war will cut deep in several directions, all of them ugly and tragic. It will lose us any moral upper hand we might currently have internationally. It will be the final axle-breaker for our yawing, steering-gone economy. It will allow all sorts of jingoistic snake-oil salesmen to fission up like rogue nuke reactors. By December we’ll either already be living under the nation’s nemesis or be facing the strong possibility of such an eventuality. Tendulkar will retire from all international cricket.
Same-to-Same: The UPA will manage to do what the Indian cricket team can’t — it will dig in and manage to play for a draw till stumps on the last day, or at least till the end of the year. In this it will be helped by the bizarre caste of characters who people the Opposition, clowns and charlatans mostly, who will be so busy angling for the beckoning spoils of power they will drive their SUVs over each other’s sneaker-shod feet. The FDI carpet-baggers will land but will make no headway, so both sides of the ‘debate’ will be happy and both will claim victory. The poor will be increasingly embattled in attaining their daily needs but the rich will stop getting richer (what Bengal does today, India does…). The protests and anger will shift from the small matter of how one half of our population, the men, continually batters the other half, the women. Some other issue will pop up for popular anger to engulf and, again, each political party will compute whether this will help them or hurt them rather than on what is right and wrong. However, war will be averted, or at least squeezed and pushed down out of sight of the media, but only till it can be switched on again at some opportune electoral moment. Tendulkar will still be playing for the Indian test team, having scored one more century and several beautiful 30s.
Ecstacy-addicted: The groundswell of anger rising from the rape and murder will not go away. Far from being distracted by false wars and decoy issues, we will see a wide range of the urban Indian citizenry actually beginning to dynamically join the dots between rape and corruption, between environmental degradation and religious fundamentalism, between the mutually supportive hypocrisies of the Left mainstream parties and the Right.
The fact that these conclusions can’t be erased by spin or official thuggery will be manifested through a rising, democratic, non-violent spreading of public protest. 2013 will be the year when many of our seemingly immovable notions start, en masse, to go into the shredder: ‘Women are the weaker sex’, ‘men will be men’, ‘people’s religious sensitivities are paramount’, ‘the obscenely wealthy merely have better karma than the obscenely poor’, ‘the rich should be given their head so that they can lead us out of this economic quagmire’, ‘the environment has to take a backseat sometimes, if we want development’, ‘the police are always right’, ‘the army is always honourable’, ‘you can’t rescind the AFSPA if you want security at our borders’, ‘security is what the authorities tell us it is’, it’s okay if a politician is corrupt within certain limits as long as he or she actually “does” something for the people’, ‘the only way to rule the country/have a revolution/achieve freedom is through the barrel of an AK-47’, and so on. 2013 will be the year when the nation’s sporting imagination finally shoves aside cricket to let in other sports big time. 2013 will be the last edition of the inglorious IPL, which fewer and fewer people will watch. Sachin Tendulkar will have retired from all forms of cricket and we will finally be able to cherish the memories of his great career.