10 April, 2010

All Jungle No Mahal

The following piece has been published in "Uday India", Vol 1, No 18, April 17 2010

Abstract: This essay is a non-partisan attempt to present a critique of the ruling power-elite of West Bengal. It delves into the underlying causes of the emaciated state of Bengal. Furthermore, the piece forebodes a ‘change’ in the offing.

If one ambles around the streets of Kolkata these days, he is bound to see a change amidst the infrastructural bouillabaisse that one is so accustomed with. A glance toward the main road (still recuperating from the inherent damage that it suffered when first constructed) shall bring into view the preened new buses, quite contrasting in style and make-up compared to the ramshackle old ones.

These are the products of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM). They have been unleashed in the City of Palaces quite recently.

In fact, some of them are fully air-conditioned, a matter of immense delight for the Kolkata-ites; since time immemorial they are undergoing a life of penance and austerity. In that life of theirs, it was routine to save electricity and supply it to richer but ‘wanting’ provinces while they themselves burnt candles and carried lanterns.

Hence, to expect air-conditioning while commuting is to go to the extreme levels of hedonism.

It would be better to shake the memories. The Calcutta Metro Rail (underground railway), at the time of commencement, had air-conditioning. With time, the “Calcuttans” have become ‘conditioned’ to accept the non-existent.

If anybody thought the ‘bad days’ are over for Kolkata in particular and Bengal (the term West Bengal has become cliché, let’s use Bengal) in general, there is a catch. The prices of the tickets of these AC JNNURM buses are on the higher side. And very few Kolkata-ites have struggled to improve on their pay-package, exceptions notwithstanding.

The result? The beggarly haggard would slaver when he has the sight of the ‘running limousine’ but ‘financially coerced’ to jump onto the decrepit chassis.

Since 1977, Bengal has maintained the status quo: in terms of lack of industrialization, dilapidation of the education system and enrichment of the cadre-strength of the ruling party.

Bengal has shown utter disregard to improve the wherewithal of agriculture, power and infrastructure. And consequently stagnation of jobs has been the order of the day.

But surely, Bengal has mustered a few things, which is worthy to be emulated for any power-elite. It has shown the world how to ‘rule’ in the guise of ‘people’s friend’, without disclosing the stratagems (at least the ruling elite thought so!).

The process of manipulation was simple and not ahistorical. It did not demand any hyperingenuity. Still, it had to be implemented.

Therefore, one has to prostrate in front of those ‘geniuses’ of Bengal who really brought the plan to fruition.

The theorization of controlling the state machinery under the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is extant. Who can forget Lenin’s thesis: “Party as vanguard of the Revolution”. The stalwart had faced contestations on this contentious issue from none other than his German compatriot Rosa Luxembourg. It is quite possible if Lenin had not expired so early, he might have reconciled with Rosa’s ideas later on. He was pragmatic enough. In fact, just after the Bolshevik Revolution, he adapted the bourgeoisie New Economic Policy, in order to stabilize Soviet Union.

But the communists of Bengal, primarily those who joined the party after the revolution in 1977, neither belonged to the same league as of the members of the then Bolshevik Party, nor had to go through an exertion to purify themselves. They kept on and still keep on proclaiming about the legendary Mao Zedong’s “Long March”. But they are nothing but windbags and their version of the ‘march’ is to proceed toward the Maidan in Central Kolkata and jam the roads and bring the whole city to a standstill.

And that has what has been in Bengal and Kolkata for the last three decades.
The citizens’ minds have been so amputated that even a single “Nandan” has been interpreted to be an amphitheatre and a single football stadium accommodating hordes has been projected as the ‘Garden of Eden’.

Nobody has bothered that there is not a single urban conurbation in Bengal which can be compared to even the collapsing Kolkata. Nobody has exhibited grievance against the daily bouts of power-cuts. Nobody uttered a single word against the blatant nepotism in the recruitment process of the judiciary, education et al. And nobody recriminated when the muscular communists of Bengal termed Netaji as the ‘quisling’. Just nobody.

Nirad Chowdhury had lamented in his “Autobiography of the Unknown Indian” when the trams of Calcutta were burnt during the freedom movement. This perception of his may be construed as blasphemous but ‘burning trams and buses’, breaking anything constructive and useful has become a culture in the last three burdensome decades for Bengal.

The countryside was deliberately kept ‘countryside’, distanced from the only city and towns were nobbled from growing into cities. The ‘outsider’ was asked to believe in the mysticism of the ‘fertile soil’ while the economist and the agronomist were befooled alike.

This mammoth task was achieved by inculcating the spirit of the 1977 revolution in the minds of the citizenry, stoking the so-called ‘cultural revolution’ along the lines of Mao Zedong and building a potent group of ‘cadres’ whose sole aim was to sustain the party structure and nothing else. The cadres and their families got the share of the pie while ‘others’ were simply alienated and forced to lead a life of penury.

A systematic build-up on these lines makes even Lenin salute the Bengal Communists and their cohorts.

Perhaps, some ‘light’ peeps in through the dark clouds. Like the JNNURM AC buses, like the burgeoning engineering colleges, like a few IT firms, like some ‘Pizza Huts’; items the communists have been forced to co-opt under the market forces. Well, after all Soviet Union collapsed and China survived by implementing ‘State controlled Capitalism’ and at the end of the day, our Bengal communists have been only blind followers of either China or USSR since the days of the Communist International.

However, the ‘light’ is not the modicum of capitalist items imported to the ‘land of the red’. Rather, the ‘light’ is the change in mindset of the masses, of the proletariat, of the ‘subalterns’; whom the communists vowed to protect, nurture and uplift to the utopia of communism: where ‘from each according to his faculty, and to each according to his need’.

The communists doctored the ‘needs’ of these ‘subalterns’, infiltrated in their domestic domains and stymied ‘their growth’.

Time seems to be up. The power-elite of Bengal is feeling the palpable ‘heat’ of ‘change’. The ‘change’ is not merely at the top. It shall not be just a ‘defeat’ at the assembly polls. It shall not be just the ‘juggernaut’ of the opposition party. Rather, it is the ‘change’ of ‘attitude’ of the ‘subalterns’.

Whether it is the Maoist-dominated Jangalmahal area or the Sundarbans or Darjeeling or the townships or Kolkata itself, the ‘change’ is visible. The ‘subalterns’, after decades of repression and arm-twisting which choked their vocal-chords, are gradually breaking the ‘communist’, rather the ‘Stalinist’ yoke.

Today if there is a prolonged power-cut, the ‘subaltern’ has the temerity to come out of his ‘hut’ and block the road. Today, he generates the steam to defy the diktat of a party-goon. And today he can march with impudence toward the Writer’s Building housing the babudom and their patriarchs.

A ‘subaltern’ in Bengal has invigorated himself.

This ‘change’ might be very well and quite naturally be cashed on in by the opposition in the coming assembly elections. In fact, the coalition did a similar thing in the concluded Lok Sabha polls. But the bells of warning need to be appreciated by the opposition too. A mileage in the elections may turn out to be an elegy in the long run if they too falter in the ‘path to deliverance’.

It has been all jungle-raaj here in Bengal for the last three decades. Mahals have been brought to dust, slowly but surely. The City of Palaces, through a quirk of fate has been reduced to an ‘urban disaster’. This has not been a ‘joyous’ phenomenon for Bengal’s masses.

The state has acted as a Goliath. Today, the Davids of Bengal are unidirectional in their approach and unequivocal in their assertion.

Can Bengal again have a set of palaces? Will the jungle-raaj evaporate? Or is this a quixotic desire?

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