Read more below

By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 15.01.10

When a fire destroys homes of some 450 people, only in Calcutta do people’s leaders stop fire tenders from reaching the site. When an ambulance is desperate to reach a hospital with a dying man in it, only in Calcutta, political activists stop it and think nothing of letting the sick man suffer or even die. The cruellest part of the story is that such ugly, inhuman acts are hailed as signs of a vibrant political culture. On two consecutive days, bandhs and blockades by political parties showed how little Bengal’s political class has changed. The bandh organized by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in South 24 Parganas also suggested that the comrades, humiliated in one election after another since last year’s Lok Sabha polls, are incapable of learning any lessons whatsoever. In rejecting the Marxists in these polls, the people had expressed their anger not only at their government’s many failures but also at their politics. The trouble is that the alternative— offered by Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamul Congress — is proving to be more of the same. Ms Banerjee’s loyalists apparently think that the surest way to beat the Marxists is to imitate their politics of bandhs and street battles.

Governments never learn, says an old adage, only the people do. If Bengal’s political class will not learn, the people must. It is time that the people stood up and told the politicians to learn. Everyone now agrees that bandhs solve no problems. They have long ceased to be of any importance in terms of political symbolism. Worse, even the political parties know that bandhs and other forms of hold-ups are all a matter of flexing muscles. But, if the civil society is to raise its voice, it must steer clear of the partisan argument. It must draw a clear line between political loyalties and disruptive politics. It will not do to choose between the CPI(M) and the TMC in condemning the politics of bandhs. After all, such politics violates the basic freedoms of citizens. Political pluralism is an essential part of democracy, but it is time the people rose above their party preferences in order to condemn the attack on their freedoms and rights by self-seeking politicians. There are now signs that the political scene in Bengal may change at last. But a change of government will mean nothing unless it comes with a change in the political culture. Bengal needs a people’s revolt to save itself from its politicians.