ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Erosion of Plurality

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The paean raised to “populism” in politics by Ranabir Samaddar in “A Festival of Politics” (EPW, 20 April 2019) avoids the issue that such populism, far from nurturing “plurality,” may sometimes become a cover for fascistic trends in a “globalised” system. It would have been better if Samaddar had not suggested similarities between Bolivarian populism in Latin America and the Trinamool Congress (TMC) regime in West Bengal, since in countries like Brazil and Venezuela, the former did by all accounts resist effects of globalisation and succeed in reducing poverty and creating employment to some extent. What has Mamata Banerjee’s “festival populism” done for the people of West Bengal? An exchequer depleted by unaccounted extra-budgetary expenditure, with suicides of more than 200 peasants unable to pay their debts, severe unemployment forcing large-scale migration and 25 lakh candidates (many of them highly educated) vying for 6,000 lower grade posts in government offices, while 9 lakh children between Classes 5 and 9 have reportedly dropped out of school just in one year. 

Indeed we should look into the “politics of festivals” too. In a state starved of jobs, the “Durga Puja economy” does provide some meagre informal subsistence for a few months to daily wagers and small producers without alternatives. But it makes them cycli­cally dependent on the middlemen who pocket the actual profits. Huge advertisements featuring the chief minister gobble up public money invested in the festivals, as in the spectacular “carnival” which has been accompanying the immersion ceremony in the last couple of years. Is all this promoting plurality? It appears that far from achieving “a new com­munity of the people,” this festival populism has increased communal tensions to a point not experienced in the state in the last few decades, sometimes bursting into ugly incidents in which ordinary people have been killed or harmed. In fact, when both the Bharatiya Janata Party and TMC followers take out armed rallies with rival claims of “Hindutva” on the occasion of Ram Navami, and Muslim leaders seek political patronage for Muharram celebrations because they feel they cannot lag behind, such divisive anxieties signify not the well-being of “plurality,” but its erosion. 

Malini Bhattacharya 

KOLKATA 

Updated On : 6th May, 2019

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