ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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‘Cultural Misrecognition’ and the Sustenance of Trinamool Congress in West Bengal

The assembly elections in West Bengal in 2016 were historic not only because the Trinamool Congress was given a second chance with a massive mandate, but also because, for the first time in decades, a single political party managed to win the election. Moreover, the TMC secured victory in most of the traditional left bastions, making the Left Front virtually insignificant in state politics. While populist and direct-benefit schemes are most prominently seen as the reasons behind the party’s success, there also exist the hitherto unaddressed alternatives to the Left Front government’s systematic development of “party society.” The promotion of traditional cultural expressions conceptualised as “cultural misrecognition” helped the TMC sustain its control and also attracted votes of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of the state who traditionally constituted the support base of the left.

The author would like to thank the anonymous reviewer for suggestions and recommendations.

The people of West Bengal voted for political change by ending a 34-year-long rule, that of the longest democratically elected left regime in the world in 2011. The All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) and the Congress alliance ushered in this change in the state. Within a few months of the elections, the two parties ended the alliance and the TMC continued to rule the state. In the 2016 assembly elections, the TMC independently secured 211 out of 294 seats, sharing about 45% of the total votes to secure a second term (Ei Samay 2016). One of the crucial aspects of this election was the TMCs unprecedented popularity among the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs), as they managed to secure victory in almost all of the reserved constituencies (Ei Samay 2016). It is popularly projected that direct cash benefits to the girl child through the Kanyashree Scheme (more than 30 lakh beneficiaries at present) (Government of West Bengal 2016), distribution of bicycles to all Class 10 and 11 students of virtually every school under the Sabooj Sathi (literally green companion, with green being identified as the party colour of TMC) scheme, and distribution of subsidised foodgrains to the poor under the National Food Security Act (Hafeez 2016) are some of the crucial direct measures that helped the TMC bag this landslide victory.

Moreover, it is argued that the last moment alliance between the Left Front and Congress was not accepted by the people at large. Samaddar (2016a, b) summarises the TMCs rise as the subalternisation of politics which is unorganised compared to the Left Front, especially the Communist Party of India (Marxist)CPI(M)and should be seen as loosely organised primarily through movements. There is an enormous involvement of poor people who saw the TMC as their new protector (Samaddar 2016a). Although it is doubtful whether one can call the rise of TMC as subalternisation, as most of the central leaders of the TMC belong to upper caste groups, it is important to note that peoples support, especially in the rural areas of the state, was phenomenal. To conclude whether there is indeed a subalternisation of Bengal politics or not one requires a thorough investigation. However, there is no clear evidence of a power shift from elites to subalterns (Bhattacharya 2016). Under such circumstances it is important to unearth the stratagems used by the TMC to achieve this phenomenal victory. In this article, I introduce cultural misrecognition as one of the major characteristics of the TMC rule in the rural areas of the state. To do so, I focus on factors that led the TMC controlled government to significantly raise expenditure in organising different festivals, which include holding different government-sponsored festivals and fairs like Mati Utsav (soil festival) (Figure 5, p 97). It is notable that such expenditure was made when the state was reeling under heavy debt. I argue that the promotion of festivals needs a political analysis to understand what attracted the masses at such an unprecedented scale. To address the issue, I present an ethnographic case study on the political transformation of one of the gram panchayats in the Khatra block of Bankura district. The time period of this study is from 2008 to 2014 when the state experienced major political transformations, including the lefts defeat in the parliamentary, assembly and panchayat elections. Such expenditure on fairs and festivals is used as a political weapona counterpart of the party society developed by the Left Front government (LFG), as theorised by Bhattacharyya (2009, 2010 and 2016) and Chatterjee (2004).

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Published On : 13th Jul, 2018

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