KOLKATA: “Sab partiyan parivartan ki baat karte hain. Koi badlao nahin aaega jab tak hum khud nahin badlenge. (All parties are talking about change. There will be no change unless we change ourselves),” said Sukhdeo Sahani, a labourer who barely makes 150 for a day’s back-breaking work in the Janbazaar wholesale market.
Last Wednesday, he did not earn a single paisa because the entire city had gifted itself a holiday.
The raw anger that welled up in his empty stomach spilled a bitter truth that eludes the average Kolkatan. Or do we deliberately look the other way, blaming political parties for all ills?
“Why should there be a shutdown on voting day in Kolkata when other cities can function normally? The problem is in the Bengali mindset. Bengalis have become idle and lazy. The biggest malady is that we, Bengalis, tend to over-dramatize reality. Hence, the hullabaloo over elections here,” says social scientist Amal Mukhopadhyay. If there has to be qualitative change in Bengal, it has to come from within, he says.
Historian Barun De agrees. Election is treated as a ‘carnival’, he says. “A carnival can be a joyful festival or a rowdy feast day. For us it is a mix of both. The administration, too, treats it as such and passes the ‘holiday’ culture on election day as tradition. Bengalis tend to blame everyone except themselves. Lack of enterprise among Bengalis is a reason for the poor work ethics. We have become the laughing stock of others,” De says, adding that there is need for introspection and change.
Economist Ajitabha Roychowdhury wonders why the way the IT hub in Salt Lake functions hasn’t led to that introspection. “Sector V is like a mini Bangalore, Delhi or Mumbai. Here youngsters from the same middle-class Bengali families display a radically different mindset. Cushy government jobs are few. The new generation has to work in the private sector, and hence, has a different attitude. I believe the situation will change in a decade or so when this generation starts running the show. Unless politicians thumb them down and force them to migrate, the change should happen,” he said.
Software developer Debanjan Chowdhury says it does not feel unusual to work when the rest of the city enjoys a holiday on a bandh or election. “I have worked in Bangalore and can vouch that we are as professional as them. Unfortunately, politics seems to be percolating into almost every sector, barring IT. We need to wake up,” he remarks.
CPM leader Md Salim, who is fighting Trinamool Congress’s change slogan, was more amenable to the change in people’s psyche. “Laziness is ingrained in the culture of Bengal. Look at north, west or south and people are more hardworking. The more one moves to the east, the more laidback people are,” he said.
Trinamool leader Partha Chatterjee, whose party is riding the promise of change, appeared more reticent at altering the tradition. “If the work culture improves and we do our job properly 364 days a year, a day off on elections won’t make a difference. The trouble is that the work culture has gone to dogs. And we have embraced bandhs as holidays,” he said.
Congress spokesperson Jayanti Natarajan is emphatic that election should be a celebration of democracy. “But polling day should not look like a shutdown. That has not been my experience in Chennai. People should vote. But the city should also be up and about,” she says.
SEE ANY DIFFERENCE? Times View
Voting is our democratic right. We must exercise our franchise but the total shutdown that Kolkata witnessed on voting day cannot be justified. When other cities, like Mumbai, Chennai, and Ahmedabad can show a professional attitude and vote and go to work on the same day, why can’t Kolkata? Is it because a culture of shirking work has crept into the society? It will take more than a change in government to change this attitude in Kolkata. The city’s tradition of taking a day off at the slightest pretext shows its disconnect from the rest of the world. All political parties must come together to bring about this change.