Thirty-two years is a long time. Power, it is said, corrupts, and being at the helm for so long, corrodes. Those who have grown up in this state know how the noose of red-tapism has stifled its work culture -- how the babus at Writers' Buildings shamelessly come for work past noon only to disappear for an hour-long lunch break soon after.
Therefore, when an emergency like Cyclone Aila rudely shocks the lackadaisical mandarins from their peaceful afternoon siesta, they are at a loss. As a result, relief never reaches the hapless villagers, who are turned into paupers overnight, by nature's fury.
VIP visits to the cyclone-affected areas only add to the people's woes. West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee visited two cyclone-hit areas -- Gosaba on Sunday and Hingalganj on Tuesday -- only to be greeted by the people's wrath. Having spent nine days without proper food or potable water, people unleashed their anger on the CM, posing uncomfortable questions like 'What has your government done in these 32 years? Why couldn't you build stronger dams?'
To Bhattacharjee's feeble plea that his office could provide information about the bridges and dams that have been built in and around the Sunderbans, a voice in the crowd roared, 'Orokom tappimara kotha bolben na, sir (Don't feed us all those lies, sir)'.
In fact, the relief camp the chief minister visited had been seething with discontent since the morning. People there forced local Communist Party of India-Marxist MLA Gopal Gayen to wade through knee-deep water; they even smeared his face with mud. 'We are dying here and this guy could come only on the ninth day,' thundered an angry mob while driving the septuagenarian member of the legislative assembly out of the relief camp premises.
Since all these incidents were recorded by the electronic media, the question of the Left Front denying them does not arise. Rather, the Front does something drastic now to help these distressed people tide over the crisis.
Perhaps, the Front should take a leaf out of the books of their comrades Kanti Ganguly or Sujan Chakraborty. While the former defied his age to be with the cyclone-hit people of the Sunderbans from day one, the latter put behind his loss in the Lok Sabha poll and lent a helping hand to Trinamool Congress MP Mukul Roy to carry out relief operations.
With rumours doing the rounds that a very senior CPI-M leader is strategising with a other disgruntled Marxists to alter the Left Front's state leadership before the 2011 assembly election, it's time the Front pulled up its socks.
Relief for the victims of Cyclone Aila is an acid test for the Front. If it succeeds in attending to the people's problems, it will stay afloat. If it fails, no power on earth can help its survival in West Bengal.