The Divided Colours of Bengal

May 26th, 2010

With inaccuracies possibly intact, not since the British left Bengal last century has colour been at the centre of politics as it is now.

That’s not to say that politics in the state has been devoid of colour. Rather, there has always been an element of raucousness that has defined the weeks leading up to hustings.

Being repeatedly woken up by street corner meetings with their battered but blaring speakers spewing disjointed poll rhetoric; constantly visiting the balcony to accost party workers for daring to mar your walls with electoral graffiti; subsequently, smiling sedately while they deface the neighbours boundary wall.

That, however, is just the sedate bit.

Public meetings that block traffic for kilometers and hours, trapping ambulances, cops and sometimes cows; organised rigging, booth-capturing and such, with the distinct possibility of a murder or two; shady money trails leading out of or into even shadier environs; back-room dealings and other paraphernalia that make elections that stuff of Bollywood blockbusters.

But the words on the street this time, with the Municipal polls slated for May 30, is not about the usual colour that characterises a wholesome hustings in West Bengal.

Instead, there is talk of shades: mainly red and green, and some others in between.

Without a pigment of imagination, much of the state’s contemporary past has been dipped in generous quantities of red — that unwavering symbol of the longest stint of any government, Communist or not, in the country.

And then, there is the resurgent green of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress which is seeking to unseat over three decades of institutionalised mismanagement. Every tragedy needs a catharsis.

Banerjee, though, has not stopped at just green. As the helmswoman of the Indian Railways, she has taken up the paint brush herself. After embellishing the gastronomically disastrous but fast Duranto, the firebrand politician is now hitting the platforms.

Railway stations across the state are turning into multi-coloured destinations with a smattering of all colours except, unsurprisingly, red. Although, greens — florescent or otherwise — are the dominant shade, diverse counterparts including purple are being punched together to create a unique ‘colourful’ ambiance.

Therein lies the fear and mystery. Since Banerjee’s disdain for anything red is well-documented, and her ambition to unseat the incumbent Left Front well-known, the colour of Writers’ Building that houses the West Bengal government is turning out to a consummate poser.

The century-old heritage building has kept a red facade for most of its lifetime and Communists inside for most part of the last fifty years.

If the political soothsayers are correct, the occupants on the inside are to change. But what of the outside?

Or, will Banerjee walk into the red building, even as the Left turns green with envy?

The distortion of history is a fact of life in West Bengal, and predicting the future a facile pastime.

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