During the election that brought Trinamool Congress to power in Bengal, the whispered slogan amongst former Left Front sympathisers (and defecting cadres) was “Chupchaap fuley chhap”; quietly press the “flower” button.
The “flower”, back then, referred to the Trinamool Congress’s electoral symbol, two flowers rising out of green grass. It was a miraculous win (with much behind-the-scenes bloodshed). The media went wild painting it as a rapturous moment of democratic victory, wherein “the people” spontaneously threw off the Left Front’s 36 years of quasi-authoritarian rule.
Much has changed since then. Or, to put it another way, everything has been absolutely the same. Once in power, the TMC slipped snugly into the CPI(M)’s stomping boots, and went on a state-wide rampage.
Of course, no sensible and culturally rooted voter in Bengal expects a government to be corruption or violence free. That’s simply not a viable model of governing in a third-world economy, and we have enough practical experience of both living in the third world and being governed, to know it. Indeed, many of us provide sterling social media support to the system by being living encyclopaedias of old fracas. We condemn and defend “our” parties by footnoting and end-noting accusations of misconduct with similar instances from other groups.
The only reason I bring this up now is because the first state election since TMC’s ascent to power is currently being conducted. There is a great deal of fanfare, local deployment of central security forces, automatic weapons, dehydrated polling officers, regular doses of political violence, and much aforementioned mud-wrestling on social media. And so far, the only people happy with it all is the Bengal chapter of the Great Indian Right Wing. Despite being practically insignificant in Bengal so far, they’re lobbying hard their share of the election cycle limelight. They claim they have thousands of sleeper voters, who will turn up quietly in flocks and vote for their flagship ‘party’, the BJP. While TMC and CPI(M) pile up corpses and burn villages, the right wing is in the process of notching up vital seats.
In other words, this election is going to see a second wave of “quietly pressing the flower button”, except that this time, says the BJP and it’s allies, the Bengal electorate will choose the pink lotus of the BJP over the flower-and-grass of the TMC (and the hammer-sickle-star of the Left Front).
If this is true, then I personally find the prospect absolutely chilling. For while the TMC has done nothing to discourage moralist/misogynistic muscle-flexing on its party members’ parts, and has resorted to very questionable means of garnering neighbourhood-level support (setting up cheap local liquor shops to cater to unemployed young men, for example, and by allowing unqualified party supporters to form real-estate/construction supply syndicates), it hasn’t descended to overt majoritarian and/or religious violence. In a gunpowder-barrel like India, that’s not too shabby an achievement. The lotus folks, on the other hand… well, let’s say they haven’t shown the same restraint, and leave it at that.[Though the curious might want to google “But what about Malda?”]
On the other hand, it’s fairly clear to even a casual observer of state politics that there is an implicit alliance between the lotus and the TMC. Despite neither party stating anything to the effect–indeed, TMC MLA Derek O’Brien recently shared a doctored photo with which he hoped to convince voters that the BJP’s actual alliance is with the Left Front –the “understanding” between the grass-flower and the lotus is fairly clear.
Which means that if the state presses the button for Mamata Banerjee’s tricoloured blossoms, they will automatically be “quietly pressing” the BJP button as well. Only, unlike in the last flower-power election, this “choosing” will be done without the voters’ explicit consent, and in many cases, I imagine, in direct violation of it.
Now isn’t that a cheerful thought to go to the polling booth with? Democracy: you think you know all about it, but it’s really the Romans who understood it best.