Other States

COVID-19 cuts into the infectious political enthusiasm of Bengal

A policeman instructs local residents to go back to their houses during a complete lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus, in Kolkata on July 25, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

So, which party is your money on this election? By now, in Kolkata, the question should have been setting off heated debates over tea and during lunch breaks, considering that the Assembly polls are due in just eight months.

But thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is only spreading in the city, Kolkata’s obsession with politics has evidently taken a backseat. The bhadralok, at the moment, has more pressing needs: such as hurrying to the market in the morning before it runs out of fresh fish. These are, after all, uncertain times and one can never take things — such as fresh fish — for granted.

The 2021 election is not going to be an ordinary event, certainly not one of those where the result is a foregone conclusion. It carries the potential of altering the political and cultural landscape of West Bengal. But if people are not enthused, that’s also because political parties don’t appear to be sharpening their knives at the moment.

Full throttle

The situation is drastically different from what it was at the beginning of the year, when Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee appeared to be going full throttle into the election mode. As someone often accused by her adversaries of being partial to Muslims, she began 2020 by doubling the number of holidays given for several Hindu festivals.

Then in March, hoardings sprang up overnight all over Kolkata hailing Ms. Banerjee as Bengal’s pride. It was a way of telling voters that while her party, the Trinamool Congress, had a face unlike its principal opponent, the BJP, which does not have a strong local counterpart.

All this at a time when the issue of CAA/NRC/NPR was raging in the background, giving ample fodder to the Chief Minister to attack the Centre and for the Centre to return her attacks.

Then COVID-19 struck, necessitating the prolonged lockdown, rendering many of the holidays meaningless. And considering that the celebration of Durga Puja on a grand scale this year still remains uncertain, the 11 consecutive holidays — compared to five so far — given for the festival will hardly guarantee any cheer or gratitude. And also because of the lockdown, the “Bengal’s pride” hoardings ended up overlooking empty roads before many of them were swept away by Cyclone Amphan.

Today, political discourse is like tea gone cold. From time to time, skirmishes take place on Twitter, but that’s mostly between lightweights. The exchange of charges between Ms. Banerjee and the Centre is no longer as virulent as it used to be until a few months ago. Sometimes, one tends to forget who her chief adversary is. On Monday, she tweeted: “Today is Nanoor Dibas. On this day in 2000, innocent agricultural labourers were mercilessly killed. My homage to all those who lost their lives due to political violence during the 34 years of Left rule.”

Battle lines stand smudged

Her message came a day after the West Bengal unit of the CPI(M) tweeted: “Our comrades are ready to offer their services as volunteers to serve people amidst the pandemic if the [Ms. Banerjee-led] State government so wants.”

The battle lines, clearly, stand smudged, depriving politics in West Bengal of its trademark flavour, that too when the State is set for a crucial election.

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Nov 28, 2020 3:08:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/covid-19-cuts-into-the-infectious-political-enthusiasm-of-bengal/article32204032.ece

Next Story