KOLKATA: Once upon a time in India there were two statesmen, Jawaharlal Nehru and J.B.Kripalani, who were perennially at loggerheads over ideological issues. But both respected each other.

Now we have two politicians, Narendra Modi and Mamata Banerjee, who too are frequently warring over various issues. But they do not respect or support each other. This is the difference between the Nehruvian era of democracy and current times.

How was the archcritic of Nehru’s policies treated by statesmen of the Nehruvian era?

Once the famous journalist Russi Karanjia rather offensively termed Kripalani “Cripple-loony” in a writeup that appeared in his weekly published from Mumbai. As prime minister, Nehru called Karanjia to the Lok Sabha to admonish him for the defamatory statement about Kripalani.

Kripalani had a very close relationship with Karanjia and did not bother at all about “Cripple-loony” - but despite the fact that Kripalani always opposed his policies both inside Parliament and outside, as a parliamentarian Nehru sided with his fellow parliamentarian Kripalani.

The ongoing elections in West Bengal have given us a picture of the drastic fall of democracy in India in real perspective. Earlier, elections used to be based on issues. Today, as West Bengal proves, the polls do not mean party-based mud-slinging alone, but also individual-based personal exchanges of unsavoury words that people hardly expect from their representatives. (Or do they?)

Let us know better the degradation of democracy in the patch of land where ‘Bande Ma Taram’ and ‘Jana Gana Mana’ originated.

Massive Violence, Total Criminalisation of Poll Politics

Close on the heels of the observation of Ajay Nayak, the Election Commission Special Observer, that West Bengal is similar to what Bihar was some 15 years ago, a story is now humming in the state. It relates to the abysmal fall of politicians in West Bengal which once had titans cutting across party lines.

The story, which many electors in Kolkata say is one hundred percent correct, runs like this. Not so long ago, a criminal turned politician became the minister in charge of the Police Department. Having been chased so long by the police, he just could not get over his fear of the khaki-clad men.

It so happened that once this minister, while in his office in the Writers Building in Kolkata, received a call from the Inspector-General of Police. As soon as he heard it was the IG Police, he stood up from his chair. He held the phone in one hand and did a salute with the other hand to say “Sir… why are you telephoning? Have I done something wrong…?”

No wonder the ongoing Lok Sabha polls have witnessed the maximum extent of violence in West Bengal. All the polling booths in the state were declared sensitive and central forces were deployed here. Nowhere else in India did such a scale of deployment take place.

Can you really imagine how violence – bombings, stabbings, group clashes, attacks on voters and raids on the supporters of rival parties in their houses – was the specialty of the Lok Sabha polls here this year, in all the seats that have gone to polls?

The brutal murder of Muhammad Tiarul Kalam, a 56 year old voter who had gone to vote in Murshidabad with his 18 year old son voting for the first time, has become a prominent case of the extension of violence. A mob attacked Kalam while he was standing in line for voting. The attackers, named in the FIR as supporters of the Trinamool Congress, stabbed him. He died on the spot.

This is the same Bengal where Rabindranath Tagore, Ramkrishna Paramhans, Vivekananda, Nazrul Islam, Subhash Chandra Bose and Aurobindo were born.

West Bengal Electorate is Totally Confused

Mamata Banerjee and Narendra Modi currently are leaving no stone unturned to ensure their party’s victory on May 19. The constituencies going to polls in the last phase are all crucial: North Kolkata, South Kolkata, Jadavpur, Diamond Harbour, Mathurapur, Joynagar, Bashirhat, Barasat and Dum Dum.

Compared to the other Lok Sabha seats in Bengal, even in India, the character of voters in these seats is totally different. Such a mixed population can perhaps be found nowhere else in India. Besides the Hindu Bengalis, you have Chinese, Anglo Indians, Christians, a small population of Armenians, a minute fraction of Parsis and Muslims. They speak multiple languages and live multiple cultures.

All these constituencies, once strongholds of the Congress and the Left Front, have people from multiple linguistic groups and religion. The average population of Muslims ranges from 12 to 21%. So for victory, all parties have to depend on Muslim votes here.

Linguistically, the non-Bangla speaking populace ranges from 19 to 27% in these constituencies. So the votes of non-Bangla speaking voters are also extremely important.

Most confusing are the new voters, whose percentage in all these seats varies from a hefty 30 to 44%. Their age ranges from 18 to 28 years. For them the political party matters little. What matters is the promise of political parties to provide them jobs. And we know how all the parties are clamouring to astronomical numbers of jobs.

Although it is commonly held that the fight is between the BJP and Trinamool Congress, the ground reality is a bit different. These two parties may be the most vocal campaigners in accusing each other, but the Congress, CPI-M and other Left parties are being careful to blame both the BJP and Trinamool. The Trinamool is depending very heavily on Muslim support as the BJP relies almost wholly on Hindu votes.

Believe it or not, the Congress and CPM seem to have made considerable inroads among young voters, who apparently are influenced neither by the BJP nor Trinamool. Blame it on both Mamata Banerjee and the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo, who are showing more keenness to attack each other personally, than to talk of growth and jobs and other vital issues including the future of the youth.

Wordy Duels of Expiry PM and Speedbreaker Didi

The war of words the PM and the CM is seen as misleading the people. It almost seems as though the two are holding public rallies and roadshows only to attack each other.

Banerjee is calling Modi the “Expiry PM.” Modi is calling Banerjee “Speedbreakder Didi” to imply that she is the hurdle to carrying out developmental works in the state. Banerjee also termed Modi Duryodhan, Dushayasan and Ravan. Modi, however, has not brought out the epics Mahabharat and Ramayan to attack the chief minister.

What Bengal is doing today, India should never do tomorrow. Here political sobriety is at its lowest ebb.

Once upon a time during Nehruvian democracy, Kripalani quipped: “We have become a nation of live corpses, without purpose or dynamism, since Independence.”

Kripalani was really a political clairvoyant in the context of West Bengal.