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

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Interrogating Some Interpretations

To interpret the results of the West Bengal assembly elections in terms of a verdict of the contest between development and democracy or as an endorsement of Mamata Banerjee's authoritarian style of governance is wrong. But to announce that the restoration of democracy and integrity in public service are issues of the upper classes and non-issues for the subalterns is not only wrong, it is retrogressive.

The issues that were highlighted by the opposition, especially by the Left–Congress alliance, during the campaign for West Bengal assembly elections held in 2016, were twofold: (1) restoration of democracy from the damages caused by the All India Trinamool Congress (TMC) to the democratic institutions and norms, including the attack on civil and political rights of people. (2) Integrity in public service, as the ruling party was reported to be sunk in the mire of fraud and dishonesty, stark examples of which being its involvement in the scams like Saradha chit fund and Narada sting operation. Apparently, these issues could not make an impact on the voters, as a result of which the Mamata Banerjee-led TMC won more than two-thirds of the total seats of the legislative assembly. (The Left–Congress alliance got a little more than 39% of the total votes polled and could manage to win less than one-third of the seats.)

The media has tried to explain this phenomenon in various ways. The oft-repeated argument being offered is that the common people consider the direct benefits received from government’s welfare schemes to be more important than the issues of democracy and corruption.1 If this argument gains ground, one may be led to form an utterly cynical view about the electorate, the voters, particularly the non-elite voters, appearing as self-seeking and self-centred individuals devoid of moral values and without any concern for protection of the core values of democracy and preservation of integrity in public service.

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