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.