A week is a long time in politics—and eight months is enough time for the title of Ruchir Joshi’s book to be turned into a mordant, cruel joke. Poriborton! (Change) chronicles Mamata Banerjee’s stunning success in the 2011 Assembly elections, when her one-woman party emphatically threw the Left Front out of power after 34 years. Yet, it already seems a lifetime ago—the easy dating a pointer to how swiftly, in some eyes, Mamata has squandered her enormous goodwill.
Especially in middle-class Kolkata, her most loyal constituency through the darkest days of the Left Front. Nine months ago, Mamata was inspirational, mildly amusing, occasionally exasperating, her homespun philosophy, studied simplicity and plain speaking refreshing after the arrogant, corrupt and tired Marxists. Now they see her as the rest of the country does: Paranoid, whimsical and—most damningly—dangerous. The fear in Kolkata’s drawing-rooms and boardrooms, as Joshi points out, is the Bihar-isation of a state already on the margins of national consciousness; the fear in the other metros is of a Kolkata-fication of the rest of the country.
Joshi captures the ruin that is Bengal—not just an impoverished, disillusioned people but a state crumbling to bits, its administration rotten to the core, its industry rusted and its highways of progress potholed almost beyond repair. Most revealing is the sniffing of a colleague of Joshi’s when faced with a Trinamul worker who was neither aggressive nor threatening but, bare-bellied and navel-scratching, simply uncouth. “We all want change,” the colleague tells Joshi, “but the problem is, this is their culture.”
That cuts to the heart of the Mamata problem—the class divide and snobbery that has long stunted West Bengal. It is not, though, Mamata’s problem; her strength—one paper recently ranked her the country’s seventh-most powerful person—no longer draws from intellectuals and opinion-makers. Her landslide win was delivered by the masses, the people she weaned away from the Left, one block, one panchayat, one municipality at a time from the Himalayan foothills to the Ganges delta. By the people who flooded the narrow lane outside her house—the same people whom she asked, when proclaiming victory, to go home and have a bath.
Joshi paints these pictures fairly vividly, and captures the colour and wit of a Bengal election. One personal favourite: Jyoti gelo paaliye, teyish bochhor chaliye; ebaar jabey Buddho, Bangla hobey shuddho (Jyoti ran off after running the state for 40 years; now Budhha will run too, and Bengal will be purified.)
But his fly on the wall has an urbane, Westernised, Delhi-centric view point and his mocking witticisms mean one can’t take the book too seriously. Pity the same can’t be said of its protagonist.
An election diary
Author: Ruchir Joshi
Price: Rs 199