THERE IS a powerful hoarding in Kolkata that captures the mood of the people in Bengal this election: “Parivartan chai” (We want change). This is an urgent and infectious slogan sweeping across the state and across social strata — farmers, traders, writers, artists, educationists. It is a slogan that speaks of both great disillusion and great awakening.
Once, the dream of socialism and an equal world fired intellectual imagination in Bengal: we believed that the CPI-M would deliver on that dream. We were blinded by our belief. In the 32 years that the party has been in power, there have been many signs of its fascist nature. There was the terrible Marichjhapi massacre and the brazen burning of the Anand Margis’ procession. There were the bloody electoral clashes, accounts of booth-capturing and the intolerance of dissent. But we believed these were aberrations in a larger commitment to the ideal of equality: we were gulled by their lies and skilled propaganda.
Today we know these were not aberrations: they were essential mutilations wrought by too much power. Today, we know that the CPI-M has no commitment to ideology but is an arrogant force that will stop at nothing to grab power. Anybody who disagrees is brutally silenced; If you are not with them, you are against them.
Why change? What change? These may be questions in the minds of urban elite elsewhere. But it is a question never asked by the oppressed because they have experienced the atmosphere of fear and untruth the government has created to suppress simple farmers, villagers and labourers. Today, in CPI-M strongholds, the poor cannot live or marry or work without the sanction of the party. Everything has a line.
The intelligentsia and middle-class had no experience of this till events in Singur and Nandigram pricked our conscience and brought us protesting onto the street. We then felt the might of the state: we were abused by slander campaigns, our theatres were shut down. Only our class and privilege protected us from their vengeful bullets.
Bengal has 56,000 factories lying defunct, made defunct by this very party. Instead of reviving that infrastructure, it is now raising false slogans of development to mislead the masses and present itself as ambassadors of industrialization. With the same brute force that it had earlier used to drive away industry, it is now occupying rich, fertile land at gunpoint, usurping crores for the party and spreading canards that the Opposition lacks vision and is against industrialization.
We ignored what we thought were aberrations; we were gulled by their lies and skilled propaganda
We seek a change from this reign of lies and terror. The discontent triggered by the tea-gardens and the BPL cards and rationing scandals, the cries of Lalgarh, Chhoto Angaria-Keshpur, Amlasol, Singur, Nandigram, Dinhata and Basanti are reverberating. Amlan Dutta, the eminent educationist says this is both a terrible and a positive moment. The brute violence of the State is being met by a mass uprising. Those who had maintained silence are now speaking out and voicing their condemnation through art, cinema, and song. No creative person can remain aloof. Non-partisanship is now only another name for indifference. In a war against oppression, one has to take sides as the situation demands.
“We want change” is the infectious slogan sweeping across Bengal. And this the song is uniting the day-labourer with the artist, the farmer with the tribal, the writer with the small-trader: “Friends, hold your heads high, shun your hesitations, dilemmas and fears, and crush the demon’s machinations.” And when a people rise up in protest against terror and lies as they are starting to do in Bengal — irrespective of their past political beliefs and affiliations — the fall of this 32- year old CPI-M government will become a certainty.