Bengal- a mystery stranger than fiction

As a Bengali born and brought up in Calcutta, my childhood was mired with both political romanticism and opportunism. Unlike the North, the Indian Bengal saw “ideology driven” politics where students galloped on the campuses with huge portraits of Marx and Lenin dotting the processions. Behind this facade however, lied another Bengal where the state was all powerful, all pervasive. Where ideology was as relevant as Gandhi is in Kashmir.

Rough and ready methods were used unabashedly and any voice of reason was muzzled and at times eliminated. As a state Bengal unlike a Maharashtra has never seen a multi-corner fight where even the independents have a certain stake. Barring the 1967 elections, there has never been a strong opposition within the state assembly resulting in the formation of powerful as well as popular governments. Governmental stability usually is a precursor to political stability. But in Bengal, the reverse became true. A cadre based party with its ever expansionist zeal  kept Bengal volatile and skirmishes between the opposition and the ruling alliance became rampant. Even today, Bengal unfortunately defeats all other states in incidents of political violence.

It was difficult to define Bengal even then, as it is now. Few could draw a parallel between a Rabindra Sangeet loving, timid, couch potato Bengali and the bloodthirsty, violent political atmosphere in the state. There has always been a sense of rebellion in the air, a frozen fragrance of insularity which has cut Bengal from the mainstream.

Even as East Europe was spiraling out of Communist control and Soviet Union was counting its last days, the residents of the state reposed their faith in an ideology which was out of sync with the rapidly changing world where inward-looking is not only unpractical but sinful.

Hindi Cinema even today defines Calcutta through its narrow lanes and Communist flags. That perhaps is about to change as the death-bugle of the Communist party in Bengal has been sounded by the people who don’t find anything worthwhile in a party led by unaccountable, politically infertile octogenarians unable to evoke energy or passion . The BJP interestingly, which was usually seen to be a party of Hindi speakers is finding wider acceptance as RSS shakhas have increased five fold in the last 6 years. Incidentally the new regime is going to complete its 6th year next month sparking allegations of a secret TMC-BJP understanding.

Bengal has often flaunted and feigned its secular and liberal credentials. Hindus and Muslims perhaps have lived together without rioting. But that does not mean they have lived harmoniously all the time. I will be honest enough to confess that many members in my family were cynical of the ‘Mussalman’. The elders of my family have often advised me never to marry a Muslim girl. Nonetheless, my crush however happens to be a Bengali actress from the ‘other community’.

The recent aggressive Hanuman Jayanti Celebrations in Bengal by both the BJP and the TMC have been seen by intellectuals as a blot on the syncretic Bengali culture. Though I am not a self styled custodian of truth, the fact is that the recent turn of events is a manifestation of the complex and concealed narrative, and the civil society in Bengal very much like their Delhi counterparts fail to descend from their high horses. The falsehood of Bengali secularism is becoming conspicuous.

P.S- The state is at the doorstep of a political transformation which will unsettle many conventional stereotypes woven around the state and its people. The Border state today is a paradox. The paradox, perhaps is best reflected by my Brahmin friend in the city, an Islamophobic beef eater.


Key takeaways….

Bengal verdict is sound and clear. The highly intelligent voter has again proved, why she is the vanguard of democracy. The elections were made out to be bipolar. In reality it never was.

The punditry suggested that this time around, there will be a haddahaddi lorai, a fight to the finish.But the post 1967 tradition just had a new lease of life with the over the top majority for the TMC.

Here the equations of the alliance did not play out as expected. The so called political analyst had almost regarded the 39% Left-Congress voteshare erosion averse. It was assumed, that it is the TMC voteshare which is variable, not that of the alliance or tactical arrangement or whatever the name is.The punditry ruled out the point that voters in Bengal are no more servile.

The way the voteshare of the Left has gone down, with an almost written off BJP touching the double digit vote share, the index of opposition unity looks highly thwarted from place.

The same ‘analysts’ who concluded that the ascending BJP vote share in 2014 hurt the Left have been wronged. Rather, the ascending vote share of the BJP helped TMC lose Asansol, where Dola Sen was trounced by Babul Supriyo.

All the historic “hand in hand” gaffes to eloquently bat for the jot by ABP have proven to be out of place and severed from reality. The elections also show the media its place. 

Give news first, perhaps even views. But you are still a bit less important in my life than the Game of Thrones.

All the op ed pages and editorials have far lesser readership today than it had a couple of decades back. You may paint VYAPAM or SARADHA as corruption scandals, but it has zero impact if the voter at large is satisfied by governance.

Media lost the battle against Modi after 2002, the much hyped India Shining lost in 2004, the Ramnath Goenka dribble against the Congress perished in 1980. Overestimation of the power of the  prime time slot is perhaps born out of social media’s incessant political campaign.

But the tech savvy, fb or instagrammed generation is still a small puppy in comparison to the doughty, rural voter whose life gets improved by sops and freebies.

Economists living in opulent bungalows may point out at their undesirable effect on the economy, but they are surely desired by the villager in Samastipur suffering from nature’s fury. 

One caveat-these elections have proven leftism isn’t dead, it can’t be. Perhaps that’s why someone jokingly said on twiiter in February-Sitaram Yechury authored this year’s finance budget!

Do dooni char

As we move slowly into the third year of Achche Din, the question of too many contradictions look to scratch Modi’s eventful reign. However, his personal report card should be a source of relief for a government carrying the liability as well as the responsibility of being a one man show-at least tangentially.

Controversies are a part and parcel of any government. In Modi’s case the issue is no different. The Vyapam and Lalitgate were talking points of every television news channel irrespective of national or regional variety about one year back.

It has not hurt the image of the Modi government or that of the Prime Minister himself. Unlike a nervous and fragile UPA II the government did not budge to the pressure that was being released by one group of the 4th estate and a highly inquisitive opposition.

Though the Prime Minister’s endeavours deserve credit, he has been unable to do a Vajpayee-make an extra effort to rope in the disgruntled elements. Besides, the tactical error has been to cede too much space to the Sangh Parivar. 

The FTII conundrum was highly avoidable with the government coming across as complicit and ambivalent. 

The issue of rewriting books based on the synonimity of hearsay stuff and tangible facts of history has made the educational policy more idiotic, mechanical and devoid of any logic.

However, even if the BJP has been losing elections and has made little headway in states where it never has had a solid ground, it is undeniable that the trust, but not hope on Modi is increasing every day. 

With the opposition more worried about the PM’s certificates, the people have already Made it clear that its trust will eventually lean upon Modi, who is still the 5 year long certified upholder of India’s tryst with destiny….

Judiciary- torchbearer or trespasser?

Lord Bryce once said,”If the lamp of justice goes out in darkness, how great is that darkness!”

Montesquieu tried to appear as a moderator in the tug of war between the various institutions of a functional democracy. The Separation of Powers proved to be a futile experiment as the difference between legitimate intervention and interference came to seen as highly spurious.

The present Government has been facing the flak from the judiciary on a varied number of issues. The most recent judgement on the Uttarakhand deadlock has made the government loose a quantum of self esteem.

The annexationist executive for now at least will look to avoid a scenario where the government finds itself in a flawed position. More so, because the government in the past could not materialise its NJAC agenda with Ravishankar Prasad accusing the judiciary of ignorance of the value of elected representatives.

But when the Parliament ‘elected representatives’ who cannot fare better even as a Sarpanch or a Panchayat Pradhan are MPs and the Temple of Democracy is recalcitrant-can we expect a reluctant judiciary? The quality of debate has followed a downhill, with speakers in Parliament coming with the additional burden of spraying pepper in their colleague’s eyes.

Derek O Brien of the TMC in an interview to Barkha Dutt used the idiom ” I will scratch your back and you will scratch mine” to underline the behind the door understandings between two pan Indian National Parties-a system of democracy that is slowly becoming truly bipolar in more ways than one increasing chances of botch ups.

The judiciary was bolstered with criticism by the Union Finance Minister of the Country. Incidentally, the Congress party alongside other political parties chose to remain on the side of the government.

History says when the political class unites, it is to save its own interests from getting squelched. When you get to see ideologically or opportunistic adversarial political parties coming together to press their demand for a pay hike, then you surely come to know the seriousnessof their self accaimed virtues.

The judiciary has also crossed the Lakshman Rekha in an attempt to come across as the ultimate authority of the Constitution. The tactical ball game played by the Judiciary in the First and Second Judge’s cases further prove the theorem of judicial activism.

Even the opaque system of selection of judges and politicisation of the judiciary is a truth that cannot be denied by the most ardent follower of the legal system.

But the seriousness of the government can be questioned with ease, even if the demanour of the judiciary in certain cases are instrumental in enterprising the dictatorship of the nyalyaya.

The government has chosen to bark when its interests looks compromised. The question of judiciary’s bias has been a permanent feature through the years. The repentance of Justice Verma on the misinterpretation of his judgement was used as a point of reference by Arun Jaitley in the Legislature vs Judiciary debate moderated by Arnab Goswami of Times Now.

Judges have been seen wining and dining in embassies which have raised eyebrows of many people. The West Bengal CM has alleged in the past that favourable judgements were being exchanged for money. A case was lodged against her because of the remarks.

But the political class still dominates the proceedings of the judiciary directly or tacitly. Grapevine has it that Gopal Subramanian was not promoted in the legal ladder because of his judgement which went against Amit Shah.

On a similar note, the Emergency was put in place mainly because of one judgement of Jagmohanlal Sinha. Seniority as a principle was breached in 1973 and 1977 in the process of the election of the CJI because the seniormost judges could not place the hat at the Ephemeral Dictator’s feet.

The judiciary needs modification for sure. But before that it is the Legislature that needs to go through (to quote JP) “total revolution.”

জীবন ও সংগ্রামের মূল্য

পরিতক্ত জীবন কাউকে কী শান্তি দিতে পারে। হয়তো নয়। কিন্তু মানুষ যখন দেয়ালের সঙ্গে মিলিয়ে যেতে বাধ্য হয়, যখন নতুন কিছু পাওয়া কিংবা চাওয়ার ক্ষমতা টুকু হারিয়ে ফেলে, তখন কী জীবনকে সম্মুখ সমরে বুঝে নিতে একটু বাড়তি সুবিধে হয়? 

দার্শনিক না হয়েও বলা যায়, জীবন মানুষকে চরম রোষানলে নিয়ে গিয়ে তাকে চারিপাশের সঙ্গে বেঁধে ফেলতে সমর্থ হয়। তখনই শুরু হয় সংগ্রাম যাতে প্রকৃতির সঙ্গে মানিয়ে নেওয়া যায়। 

তাহলে কী মাওবাদী আন্দোলন কে legitimise করা যেতে পারে? তারাও তো জীবনের সঙ্গে আবার জীবনের বিরুদ্ধেও লড়াই করেছে। তাই তো তাদের তথাকথিত গণতন্ত্রের উপর হামলার প্রয়াস। কিন্তু গুলির মাধ্যমে নিজের অধিকার পাওয়ার চেষ্টা তো আর বেশি রক্তক্ষয় এনেছে।

তাহলে ‘সিস্টেম’এর বিরুদ্ধে লড়াই তো আর হিংসা হানছে, আর মৃত্যুমিছিল আরও এগোচ্ছে আগুনের শিখায় পুড়ে ছাই হওয়ার লক্ষ্যে। কিংবা  নশ্বর দেহটি মাটির সঙ্গে মিশে এ পৃথিবীতে হয়ে উঠছে এক অমর নিস্পাপ প্রতিমূর্তি। 

তখন তার জীবনের সংগ্রাম, কখনো হারা কখনো জেতার কী কোনো দাম থাকবে? অবিনশ্বর হলে কী জীবনের সংগ্রাম মুছে যায়? একজন লেখক তার কাজের মধ্যে নাকি বেঁচে থাকেন। কিন্তু তা কী জীবনের মূল্য কে বাড়িয়ে তোলে?

মূল্যের মূল্যায়ণ বোধহয় অঙ্কের তাত্ত্বিকতা থেকে একটু বেশি গভীর কিংবা অঙ্কের ব্যবহার বোধহয় জীবনের মূল্য গুনতে অপরিপক্ক। তাই মানুষ সংগ্রামের মধ্যে বাঁচে নাকি সংগ্রাম মানুষের মধ্যে বাঁচে, তার নির্নয় করাটা কোনো মানুষ-শিক্ষিত মানবিক চরিত্রের উপরেই ছেড়ে দেওয়াটাই ভালো।

“Swamy & enemies”

The Congress Party is in a state of irreversible decline. This is the moot story one can hear in the lanes and bylanes of political grapevine. 

One can surely understand the condition of the party from a series of electoral setbacks and the Agusta Kickbacks have only legitimised the party’s ill famed mirage of corruption.

But the people by now are tired hearing of corruption as all political parties are brazenly involved neck deep in money laundering and other illegal as well immoral practises.

And the Congress Party is standing on the Dead Cliff. So even the people have no reason to stand  ‘wide jawed’ after hearing the allegations. The former Union Defence Minister has agreed to the fact that there was corruption in the #VVIPchopperScam.

And the BJP has chosen the right time and the apt person in its quest to bay for the Gandhis’ blood. The redoubtable Subramanian Swamy is more a mischief maker and has seldom made any headway in putting opposition political figures behind bars.

He failed to implicate  Chidambaram. The Gandhis for the time being can breathe a sigh of relief in the National Herald case. His truly ‘rubbish'(a word he uses frequently) remarks trying to draw a connection between Aamir Khan and other terror organizations give me enough reason to believe he is nothing more than a crackpot.

But he has been able to catch the pulse of the nation and the Mediagenic audience is making the most of Swamy’s gregariousness. The fall of the Gandhis from the citadel of infallibility has even forced the Swami haters to rally behind him for a common cause.

The Social media is the backyard  of the Right. And even trivial or fake information attacking the Gandhis and the Congress Party is going on the rounds. Many have cried foul mainly invoking the memories of media trial.

But there is a reason. For the last  seven decades, an inaccessible political family is suddenly being treated as a common entity, not a elitist one. The supra constitutional value of a family has now been devalued.

The fight of the Gandhis now is like the battle of any family trying to rinse off the stain. Their success or failure will decide the future course of Indian politics.

Till then like many others try to watch Rajya Sabha TV which recently has seen a jump of 900% in TRPs whenenever Swamy has fired his “unparliamentary” canons. News Channels are reaping windfall profits, the audience is getting entertained, those whose boredom compelled them to watch Sasha Grey in Parliament are sitting upright. Vigilance at last has returned. So Who complains?

Lolita, ask ‘her’ to leave today

See I want to permanently return to Kolkata after 2 years. And if Didi is still the Chief Minister, I shudder to believe what will be the consequences. Bengalis are known to lateback, their dna is full of indolence but brains morphed with politics.

The intellectual class mostly believes she is unbearable. True she is. Though I necessarily never subscribe to the propaganda of the ABP- Mamata has creates her own pitfalls. 

Bengalis have a rich past, a rich present and a hopefully a bright future. But what if talented Bengalis help a Maharashtra or a Karnataka increase its GDP as their home state lie high and dry?

In a recent interview in an election rally in Kolkata, she was being quizzed by the NDTV triumvirate- Shekhar Gupta, Dorab Sopariwala and the Probashi thespian Prannoy Roy. There was no connect between the questions thrown and the answers given.

The situation appears morbidly grim as most political commentators are clueless about the choice of the voters this time around. There is no clear cut picture which has led Mamata lose her senses altogether.

A Chief Minister must at least show grace even if she fails to qualify as a bhadromohila by middle class standards. A question was asked about the prospects of the BJP in these elections. But she in return talked about the ‘nuisance'(a word she is in love with it seems as she repeated it half a dozen times) of the Election Commission and the BJP government at the centre.

She has always been whimsical- a reason why the educated middle class never took her seriously. A polemical view of her administrative skills while she was the Railways minister today has fallen flat on the face. Mention I must, the facade of her great administrative skills was a manufactured product of the media only.

Jobs cannot be created by the brethrens of extortionists, by the partners of those who believe in the departmentalazation of bribery- from the Chokdas to the top notch ministers.

She dreamt of making Kolkata, an alter ego of London. What in return she has given the city is the worst example of colonial slavery. A highly discernible copy of Big Ben stands near New Town. Madame Tussauds has opened its office in the city only to reincarnate the Chief Minister’s idol.

The Left-Congress will go down in history as an awkward pair who tried to re-establish what vulnerability and fear can do to political parties. But who knows this is the best chance Bengal has in its path of revival.

Bengal must own up the model thrown by South Indian states where anti incumbency becomes so extreme every 5 years that a poriborton seems imminent.

The myth that a government with a huge mandate can guarantee political stability has not stood the test of time. The Left till 2011 had quite a comfortable majority. But the 3.5 decades of left rule saw infinite political deaths which cannot be chroniclised factually.

Who knows perhaps, a government with a slender majority, with a tight noose will face the greater pressure to deliver. As Kerala according to many has achieved stupendous success under Chandy, because the Congress was just past the halfway mark in the Legislative Assembly.

Till then lets hope, the new government can arrest this brain drain- otherwise the student speacials to Pune or Hyderabad or Bengaluru will not stop.