I arrived in Dubai after midnight on 22 April, nervous about missing my connecting flight. Passing through security for the second time in nine hours, rehearsing the whole belt-discarding, shoe-and-wallet-jettisoning routine with a bunch of Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Europeans, I plunged into the capitalist wakefulness that is Dubai airport. I was on my way to Calcutta from London. Assembly elections were taking place in India - they have been taking place, phase by phase, since the beginning of April - and there would be new governments in at least some states. In most states there is a shift in control every five or ten years; the non-ideological alliances of compromise and mutual opportunity have proved, since the 1990s, to be surprisingly resilient. In West Bengal, though, there has been no alteration for 34 years; the electorate, steadfast at first, then increasingly hapless, has voted the Left Front coalition into power seven times. But, in the 2009 general elections, the Front, unprecedentedly, incurred heavy losses. The volatile opposition leader Mamata Banerjee's great vision for Bengal - the vision of decisively booting the Left Front out - suddenly seemed not just a possibility, but the most likely outcome.
LRB 19 May 2011 | PDF Download