Political, and non-political, circles in Kolkata are abuzz with rumours that Mamata Banerjee has started finalising her Cabinet, keen as she is to get cracking from the first day after coming to power in next month's Assembly elections. Amit Mitra, the FICCI general secretary is said to be her pick for the post of Finance Minister. Bratya Basu, theatre personality and one of the main movers of Trinamool Congress' "intellectual brigade" is expected to be Culture Minister. The name of Sobhandev Chattopadhyay — not to be confused with Kolkata mayor Shobhan Chattopadhyay — is doing the rounds for the post of Education Minister. The portfolio was apparently offered to Saugata Roy, Union Minister of State for Urban Development, but the grapevine says he chose to stay in New Delhi. The portfolio of transport, once held by CPI(M)'s colourful Subhas Chakrabarty, will supposedly go to Madan Mitra, one of Mamata's right hand men. Mitra, the president of the Progressive Taximen's Union, had promised last year to drive a taxi once a month to understand the commuters' problems and to prevent his drivers from defecting to a rival taxi union formed by the Congress' INTUC. It's not known whether Mitra kept his promise.
Everyone in Kolkata has an approximation, some even an exact figure, of the number of seats that Didi will win in the Assembly elections. They range from a precise 145 to somewhere around 180. West Bengal has 294 seats, and the Trinamool-Congress alliance needs 147 for a simple majority. But no one is giving the alliance 200 plus seats, at least not yet. The Muslim vote is expected to play a major role in these elections. Muslims comprise 26% of West Bengal's population and in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, 58% of Muslims voted for the Trinamool and 37% for the Left. Analysts say that the CPI(M) will be able to limit, to an extent, the damage caused by the Sachar Committee report because of its decision to reserve 10% government jobs for "Backward Muslims", but whether this will be enough at a time when "everyone" wants change, is not known.
Congress supporters were convinced this week that Mamata would have to give in to their party's pressure for more seats. One of the bargaining chips reportedly being used by the Congress was the Trinamool's near-absence in districts like Darjeeling, North Dinajpur, South Dinajpur, Murshidabad, Bankura,Purulia and West Midnapore. Mamata needs the Congress in North Bengal in particular to reach the halfway mark of 147.
Kolkata media was abuzz with the news that the Left list had at least five "dynastic" candidates. They are: CPI(M)'s Fuad Halim, son of Speaker Hashim Abdul Halim; Forward Bloc's Moinuddin Sams, the son former minister Kalimuddin Sams; CPI(M)'s Tamalika Panda Seth, the wife of former MP Lakshman Seth; FB's Udayan Guha, the son of former minister Kamal Guha; and FB's Ali Imran Ramz, the son of former MLA Ramzan Ali.
The noise has gone missing from the elections because of a ban on loudspeakers. With them have vanished the ear-shattering street corner meetings that drive politics in West Bengal. The Higher Secondary Examinations are going on, so no political party is allowed to use loudspeakers to reach their messages to their voters. The board examinations get over around the second week of April and voting starts on 18 April. Both the Left and Trinamool, although unhappy, are eyeing the remaining phases of the six-phase elections to blare home the message.
Loudspeaker-less CPI(M) has told its candidates to visit each and every home in their constituencies. A lady in Jadavpur, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's constituency, was heard asking, "So will Buddho visit our homes asking for our vote? He might as well, considering we have not seen him even for once in the last five years."
Schoolteachers who will be on booth duty are a scared lot. They are fearing violence on poll day.
Trinamool hoarding seen on a street corner: "Your vote is like a nuclear bomb. So do not forget to vote." In this time of nuclear radiation, the message was not being appreciated.
Amid all the election posters, the other hoarding that caught the eye featured one of West Bengal's most reputed writers, Sunil Gangopadhyay. This Sahitya Akademi award winning novelist and poet is selling a mustard oil brand so pungent that it will bring tears to Bengali eyes. The advertisement, which has flooded Kolkata, is bringing tears to the eyes of admirers and readers of Bengali literature.