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Kolkata poll diary: Will Bengal usher in 'change'?

Last updated on: April 27, 2011 09:51 IST

Kolkata poll diary: Will Bengal usher in 'change'?


Indrani Roy Mitra in Kolkata

As the crucial third phase polling of the West Bengal assembly elections begins on Wednesday morning, Indrani Roy Mitra tries to gauge the political temperatures as she strolls through the by-lanes of poll-bound Kolkata.

Poriborton (change) or protyaborton (return of the old seat of power) -- the whole of Kolkata seeks an answer to this as the city goes to polls on Wednesday.

Poriborton happens to be the new buzzword in the state especially after Trinamool Congress chief and Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee instilled in the popular minds a 'hope' of change in governance after an impressive show at the Lok Sabha and municipal elections.

Complete Coverage: Assembly Elections 2011

Will Banerjee be the next chief minister? Will her party succeed in putting an end to the 34-year-old Left Front regime led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee?

One can get an answer only on May 13, the day of counting.

However, there is no denying that a thought of 'change' -- be it a new ruling party or better governance -- hangs heavy in the air.

And people of the state are getting soaked in it.

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Image: People turn out in heavy numbers in front of a polling booth at Jadavpur in Kolkata on Wednesday morning
Photographs: Dipak Chakroborty

'All this hype about poriborton is futile'

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On Wednesday, the day of third phase polling, I moved across various parts of the city to get a feel of the election fever.

My photographer and I split ways as we thought 'it would be impossible to eavesdrop with a lensman tailing me'.

I started off with Kasba constituency in South Kolkata where Satarup Ghosh, youngest of the Left Front candidates is pitted against Trinamool Congress veteran Javed Khan.

I approached one of the manchs set up by the Left in our attempt to listen to the people's voices.  

"All this hype about poriborton is futile. People's faith in the Left Front will be restored", said a middle-aged man, draping his right hand around his oldish friend's neck, sipping tea from a glass.

His friend nodded, only to add impishly, "But then why did the Front do so badly in the Lok Sabha and the municipal elections? What went wrong?"

"Oh, those were the acid tests, you see," his friend retorted, "The people just wanted to see how the Trinamool Congress functions at the central and local levels. We all know how they performed," said the man, with an 'I-know-it-all' smile and a wink.

Image: West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Photographs: Reuters
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'Writing is on the wall; election is just a formality'

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"See dada, you can't be that sure," chipped in a young man from behind. "An election is like a one-day cricket match. You can't bet on the result unless the last ball is bowled."

Now, this got 'dada' angry. Though he must have wanted to say, 'shut up, will you?', only kept glaring at his younger fellow citizen. (It was polling day after all, and one just cannot afford to be argumentative).

I walked a little ahead and soon came across a gathering of Trinamool Congress supporters (each one donned a TMC cap).

Here all that one could (over)hear: How will Didi (Mamata Banerjee) perform as the next chief minister.

In fact, this 'we have reached the summit' has been the all-pervasive mood of the TMC 'team' for the last few months.

'Writing is on the wall; election is just a formality' has been the unspoken slogan of this Mamata-centric party.

"Didi will usher in a new era," said a woman in her mid-thirties, adding, "Bengal will flourish under her leadership".

"What worries me is that the party could never grow beyond Didi", said a middle-aged voice.

"A win will change everything, Dada. Move on, wait and see", assured the woman. I took the cue and started walking again to stop soon after for a cup of tea. The roadside stall was doing brisk business.

"I have already sold 25 cups of tea," said the beaming owner. "This is such a crucial election, isn't it?"

When asked who would win, he whispered (quickly roaming his eyes around), "I want the Left to win. A known devil is better. . . . But then TMC has a strong chance this time, you see."

 I couldn't but agree.

Image: Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee
Photographs: Reuters
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Polling was going on amid tight security

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At a distance, a toddler was seen coming back from the booth with her mother.

Greeting me with a friendly smile, the little one flaunted her freshly inked index figure. "Oh, you voted too," I asked.

The smile grew bigger. "It's a red letter day for her," said her mom.

"It's always good to vote early, you see. It only took me 10 minutes", she informed before walking back to her home at a distance.

The child kept looking back -- fatigue-clad Central Reserve Police Force drawing her attention this time.

Polling was going on amid tight security.

Hundred companies of CRPF were supposed to be guarding the six-phase election in West Bengal.

The full bench of the Election Commission, headed by Chief Election Commissioner Y S Qureshi, visited West Bengal earlier to assess the situation and proposed to deploy the CRPF.

A six-member high-level Election Commission team had also toured the trouble-torn areas.

Image: A CRPF jawan guards a polling booth in Kolkata's Jadavpur constituency on Wednesday morning
Photographs: Dipak Chakroborty
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'The road ahead is sure to be a violent one'

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"The CRPF would only ensure that polling is peaceful. But I am worried about what's going to happen afterwards. Whatever be the result, Bengal is heading towards a mad bloodbath," a top cop had told me some time back on condition of anonymity.

"The road ahead is sure to be a violent one", he had said. Reason?

"Be it poriborton or protyaborton, both the victor and the vanquished would want to make their presence felt."

And his sense fear was infectious.

Last night, a dear friend from outside Kolkata called up to say, "Never take any unnecessary risk. Please be careful. No rash decision, please. Amid this political turmoil, one can't tell a friend from a foe."

May be she was worrying a little too much -- things are not this bad, eh, I assured myself.

But the second part of her warning seemed too poignant -- this indeed is a perplexing time. We just cannot afford more bloodshed. Our dear state has suffered way too much, already.

Whoever wins the elections, why can't we behave like mature political souls?
Perhaps, this is the time to keep our hopes alive.
This is the hour to seek solace in Pete Seeger's unforgettable song:

Where have all the flowers gone? Long time passing. Where have all the flowers gone? Long time ago.Where have all the flowers gone? Young girls picked them, ev'ry one. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?
Where have all the graveyards gone? Long time passing. Where have all the graveyards gone? Long time ago.
Where have all the graveyards gone? Covered in flowers, ev'ry one. When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

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