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Waiting for Poriborton

The growing dissent against the TMC among West Bengal’s urban voters might give the BJP its chance

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee sounded the poll bugle for 2019 on Shaheed Divas on July 21, challenging the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in her firebrand style. But is the pulse of the urban voter swaying towards the BJP?

Symptoms on the ground show a soft shift towards the BJP, though the Trinamool Congress (TMC) may claim otherwise. However, it’s high time the TMC takes this seriously, otherwise, the simmering dissent will come to the surface. It may translate into votes, which will cost the TMC heavily. Their strategies need to be revised, and the sooner the better.

But the TMC couldn’t care less about the so-called urban voters—consisting of educationists, intellectuals, high-salaried executives, middle-class office-goers, and students. The TMC itself admits that it’s a party for people living on the margins, struggling to eke out enough for two square meals a day.

Former minister and TMC MP said, “Our voters are not executives. Our voters are ordinary people and belong to the category of people living a marginalised life. They are our strength. They know only Mamata Banerjee is a saviour for them. Any kind of dissent will not play or shift their interest. On the surface, people may have expressed an opinion that will not make much of a difference to our vote share.”

But contrary to his claim, in this era of image-building, the virtual assault on the TMC is sharp and hitting the party in a big way. Facebook posts and WhatsApp memes directly attack the Chief Minister’s governance, nepotism, corruption, the authoritarian nature of the party’s functioning, and the current unemployment and frustration due to bad infrastructure. Social media and the Internet present a picture that will raise questions and issues in about six months, during the elections. Clearly, the TMC needs a strong mechanism to deal with this.

Some “urban voters”, on condition of anonymity, said there is so much difficulty to operate in the state—for expansion, or setting up an entity—that most people give up. Young professionals are leaving because there is a lack of growth. The work culture needs a change. However, all these issues have lost focus in the eyes of the governing party, and this is what the BJP is hoping to capitalise on to make an entry into the state.

Shreya Chatterjee used to work with TCS in Kolkata, but decided to leave the city for Bengaluru, claiming the latter is better to live in and has a better work culture. “Poriborton (change) in certain ways, yes,” she says. “We do see global brands coming in and better infrastructure, but there is something very important that is facing severe scarcity. That is quality, in every sense of the word—in infrastructure, life, work, resources. The work culture in most MNCs still follows oligarchy and the ‘dada’ culture. It has hit a bottleneck.”

Chatterjee says this doesn’t allow for talent to grow and think creatively. “It is sad to see the crab mentality of the state,” she says. “The growing frustration and absolutely no respect for the law makes the situation difficult. People know they can get away with it. That casual attitude, that lack of accountability, respect, integrity—that’s what is permeable. The growing population is making it worse. Hence, I chose to break free. Seeing a poriborton in that would be a welcome change.”

Students of Presidency University and Jadavpur University believe they have not been paid any heed by the Chief Minister.

The students are circulating a meme which says that the Chief Minister’s office, the Deputy Commissioner’s office, police stations, and the executive council may have been bought over—but there are certain strong-willed students of a university who have refused to give in to the pressures created by the ruling party. The meme says the students know that those who accepted this slavery are definitely not happy.

The student agitation is picking up pace. They have issues with the latest online admission procedure, which is a breeding ground for corruption. The students claim there is a nexus, involving local leaders of the ruling party and some administrative people.

Kayan Acharya has just finished his Class 12, and has taken a seat at a private engineering college. He spoke to us while travelling home on a minibus, from Salt Lake to the Exide bus stop.

“Hundred per cent in literature subjects have made admissions difficult,” Acharya says. “And then there is the online admission process which is chaotic.” Acharya says his friend got admission in Jadavpur University, but reached late to deposit his dues and fulfil other formalities. The friend was denied admission, and was advised by the administrative staff to seek help from local TMC party leaders.

“Why would anyone contact a party leader, who is a small-time goon, to seek admission?” asks Acharya. “It is so frustrating. And this is not the end. College is a part of an ongoing struggle. Once we acquire the degree, there are no jobs in the state.”
A recent Facebook post mocks the Chief Minister’s cancelled China visit, and is now being widely circulated. It says, “Mon ta kemon chin-chin kore”—meaning there is a nagging pain (“chin-chin”) in the heart. The dissatisfied middle class says Mamata Banerjee’s contributions have been projected everywhere. Bus stops, water ATMs, any initiative, no matter how small, carries her name along with the area MLA sharing credit. And yet, they say, she has no time to listen to the common man.

Unlike other states, the electorate in West Bengal is patient, and won’t immediately write off Mamata Banerjee. They know that change takes time, and the Chief Minister has no magic wand to do it overnight. At least two tenures are required. But that time is up now, and they want to see that elusive “poriborton”, which will provide jobs, a better work environment, infrastructure, and push the state globally. In real terms, it would comprehensively accommodate the social fabric of the state in a democratic way. It cannot be contained to one section of the electorate, regardless of dissenting views.

Asok Kumar Ganguly, a retired Supreme Court judge, summed it up when he said, “There has been no change in the past five years. Everything is stagnant. Poriborton is needed in terms of income generation, with better administration.”