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Political ‘cold war’ altering people’s social life in Bengal

By Sanjay Pandey

Kolkata: Heated arguments and intermittent clashes between supporters of rival political parties are common during an election season. But political rivalry in Bengal takes an ugly turn in Bengal often signaling the start of a never-ending ‘cold war’.

A “cold war” between the loyal cadres of rival parties stretches from one election to the other, often invading even their social and personal lives. Youth of the same locality, who grew up together, turn into one another’s foe and remain that way even after the elections are over.

Disputes over petty issues are given a political twist at the drop of a hat which end up snowballing into a conflagration.

31-year-old Sumanto Mandal, for example; a resident of Patuli in Jadavpur Lok Sabha constituency and a staunch CPM cadre is unable to move about freely (without any fear of being beaten up) in his own locality.

When meeting his friends, he prefers taking a detour of 2km through CPM’s only alleyways to reach his desired destination (just five minutes away otherwise) rather than encountering his childhood friends-turned-foes, who now support the TMC and could go berserk at the very sight of their bête noire.

“Since the TMC has come to power, they have turned to hooliganism. We cannot move about freely in our own colony. This is hurtful – much more than the beating that we occasionally get at the hands of TMC supporters,”

said Mandal, who used to supply construction material to small-builders in the locality but has been left without a job for the past three years as the cadres of ruling party won’t allow them to do business anymore.

So why don’t they complain about it to the police?

“The Police is a puppet in the hands of the government. They never take action against the cadres of the ruling party. There have been instances when the cops have framed our guys who went to file a complaint against the TMC goons,”

he said.

Asked whether TMC has borrowed the culture of hooliganism and putting rival party cadres under “house arrest” from CPM, he admitted:

“There were similar problems in rural Bengal when CPM was in power. But we never heard of such an incident in Kolkata. They have brought the dirty warfare to town.”

According to political experts, the ruling party has traditionally been so powerful in Bengal that the opposition often becomes obsolete.

The Left Front has perpetrated atrocities on the cadres of rival parties during its 35-year- rule in Bengal. Now that the “oppressed” have come to power, they seem to be in the mood to settle scores. Hence they have apparently resorted to the politics of vendetta.

“CPM is actually getting a taste of its own medicine. They have bullied us for decades, it is our turn now,”

said Debashish Bhowmick, a 30 something TMC cadre, flaunting his 18 inch biceps at a local club-run gym.

Professor Bonita Aleaz, a professor at the Calcutta University who specializes on Indian state politics, said,

“Cold war between cadres of rival political parties is a feature that may be linked to the history of Bengal. The knowledge that the intellectuals imbibed through their interactions with the West, on one hand, has kindled the desire to imbibe more and, on the other, it has fuelled an immense desire to recast their own surroundings, their culture, and their women in strong positive strains. They could not be the representatives of anything decadent! They were the upholders of truth and nothing but the truth.

The British invincibility was a challenge they took on with their own interpretations of truth. Such attitudes have infiltrated the major political parties functioning in Bengal, the Left and the Congress. Hence, along with this the notion of each being the only torch bearers of culture and development, the upholder of people’s rights; there is a strong intolerance of the other; there is no alternative.”

“Politics of acceptance or power-sharing does not exist in an area governed by positivism for so long,”

she added

So do you call it a change or paribartan? Aleaz claimed the top leadership did have an idea of parivartan.

“However, there never has been any infrastructure to carry it out. There is a need to discipline the party cadres and the police, funds have to be pragmatically sought for and utilized; these being a miniscule part of the kind of basic necessities needed for a parivartan.”

Two weeks ago, three CPM supporters putting up posters of Jadavpur candidate Sujan Chakraborty were attacked by suspected Trinamool supporters in Bhangar, South 24-Parganas. Though Trinamool denied the allegation, a walk down the alleyways of the constituency makes it evident that it is in the iron fist of the Mamata-supporters.

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Not only that, the CPM party offices – which used to be a beehive of political activities until the last Lok Sabha elections when the Left Front was in power, are shut now.

Apparently, there is an order from party high command to not open offices as it would give TMC cadres an excuse to pick up with a fight with CPM supporters. But the threat of an imminent attack doesn’t deter loyal CPM cadres like 60-year-old Saugata Bhowmick.

“What will they do? Murder us? We don’t fear death. Tell the leaders to open the office at least. They are trying to create fear in our minds, but we won’t give up,”

said an aggrieved Bhowmick to a comrade who runs a tea stall in the locality.

“You would hardly be able to see graffiti of CPM or the other party candidates. They are literally on a wall capturing spree,” said the vendor, requesting anonymity “as exposing political allegiance would mean losing out on customers who blindly support TMC”.

But why do the cadres become so intolerant when it comes to accommodating people who support a rival party?

“Turfs have to be protected. That is the mentality. And here the people have not learnt to compromise, to reconcile or to work together, each person is a king in his or her own space. It all emanates from the kind of intellectualism we appropriated.

“Too much of politics in every sphere of life — be it social or personal — is altering the way people socialize, threatening the very idea of peaceful co-existence,”

Aleaz summed up.

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