A few months ago, I had gone to the villages of Birbhum district, West Bengal on a recce trip for a documentary on people-centric development works carried under the aegis of the Gram Panchayats. Accompanying me were a couple of officials from the District Magistrate’s office, one of whom was also a cadre of the CPI (M).
Driving through the golden fields of ripe paddy the discussion turned to local politics. Pratap, our chauffeur, an ardent supporter of Mamata Bannerjee’s Trinamool Congress, soon began a litany of accusations against the wrongdoings and incompetence of the Gram Panchayats, a majority of them being controlled by the CPI (M) for years at a stretch. The comrade kept his cool and made snide remarks about Mamata-di, which enraged Pratap even more. Suddenly he launched a personal tirade and asks how the comrade managed to acquire a house building grant under the Indira Abasan Yojana – a scheme reserved solely for people living below the poverty line. “Isn’t that blatant partisan politics and corruption?” thundered Pratap. Dilip-da, my comrade friend remained unfazed, a smug smile appearing on his face, “My dear Pratap,” he answered smoothly, “It is the poor who have given me the housing scheme as a gift for serving them for the last thirty years! Can I refuse their love and affection by citing petty rules and regulations?”
A couple of months later I had news from Birbhum. In Pratap’s village, the CPI (M) has been routed in the Panchayat elections bringing an end to three decades of serving the poor!
PS: I recall this incident in the context of the results of the elections to the Vidhan Sabha in the 5 states. To me they are a confirmation of the wise words Bob Marley, “You can fool some people sometimes / But you can’t fool all the people all the times”.