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Bengal: Acts of vandalism are no accidents

Acts of vandalism are no accidents- Kolkata-street-food
Kolkata Street Food – Illustration Courtesy: Dreamstime

Acts of vandalism during the electioneering in Bengal are not accidents. The Hindutva forces are attacking on the distinct and separate culture of Bengal. Bengali culture is now being invaded.

By Nazarul Islam

People across India and beyond have been surprised by the vehemence and the consequent turbulence that the Bengal elections of 2021 have created. Is there a clear desperation that the air in Bengal smells of—something that the BJP seems so keen to display? Obviously, the big question remains: Why? What indeed is at stake in these elections?

There are various theories, but what is of crucial significance is the attack on the distinct and separate culture of Bengal.

The time has arrived now, to put it in perspective. Surely Bengal is not any more important (in purely political terms) than other similarly sized states within India. Why then this remarkable frontal attack? Why the battering of the Bengal fortress? The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s himself, no less, has been in Bengal every second day; his role as the administrative leader of the nation has gone for a toss.

Perhaps a political milestone had to be achieved—of a Congress-mukt Bharat. We often forget cathartic in Bengal it is only the TMC, not the original ‘culprit’. Why then the desperation of trench warfare, as it was, that we have seen over the last two months in West Bengal?

Does the history of modern Bengal tell us anything, more mysterious? In West Bengal today, one woman, with just a couple of associates, has been fighting the “outsider”, represented by the prime minister, home minister, defence minister, a host of other ministers and the various turncoats who brought this situation to pass.

It is perhaps apposite that it is happening in Bengal today, a reminder of the irruption of outsiders into Bengal and India, through Robert Clive, an East India Company employee. In June 1757, at Palashi, the East India Company defeated the Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-Ud-Daulah, with the help of a conspirator Mir Jafar, who belonged to the Nawab’s court, and a few others of his ilk. Robert Clive incidentally left India with an enormous personal fortune.

But that is too distant a link. In 1905, Bengal was divided by the wily British, based largely on religious lines but the essentially non-religious culture of Bengal exploded in a frenzy of opposition to the partition.

Some of the greatest patriotic writings of Bengal came in those times. Rabindranath Tagore wrote ‘Amar Shonar Bangla’, ‘my golden Bengal’, which today is the national anthem of Bangladesh. Dwijendralal Roy wrote ‘Dhana dhaanya pushpa bhora’ – the sentiment was that the land of his birth was ‘the queen amongst all nations’.

Tagore also wrote: ‘Banglar mati, Banglar jal’, a song praying for the unity of Bengal’s heart and soul. Clearly, the cultural ethos of Bengali intellectualism had retained its hold over religious thought. And yet, the disempowering of Bengal was not over. In 1911, at the Delhi Durbar, Emperor George V announced that the capital of India would be shifted to New Delhi.

But the pride of Bengali intellectualism remained. It is that pride in that erudition that made the heart and soul of Bengal.

As a Bengali, born and brought up outside Bengal, I was encouraged to read the literature of Bengal, as indeed were most Bengalis of our generation. Tagore, Sarat Chandra, Bankim Chandra, Bibhuti Bhushan, Jibanananda Das and Syed Mujtaba Ali, all gems of modern Bengali literature. There is no nonsense poetry like Sukumar Roy’s elsewhere in India.

And certainly some of India’s best children’s literature came from Bengal. But literature was not all; art and, in time, cinema flourished. There was pride in Bengali thought; in its sensibility in “Bengaliness”.

It is this culture that is now being invaded. Even Bengali cuisine, another aspect of Bengali pride, was attacked by some Hindutva forces three years ago, for relishing non-vegetarian food during Durga Puja.

We now have had the election-time spectacle of what has been humorously called a shuttle service from Delhi to Kawlkata. The Prime Minister made only token visits to the south and even to Assam. But every second day, in Bengal, we have had the spectacle of speech after speech by the Prime Minister himself, even when polling was on in some nearby district.

The Home Minister has virtually camped for days on end in Bengal, leading spectacular roadshows but reminding us, wrongly, that Tagore was born in Shantiniketan. What then can be the reason for such an onslaught?

Was it to capture the land of Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who, at one time at the helm of the Hindu Mahasabha, joined forces with the Muslim League to become Finance Minister under Fazlul Haque? The same Shyama Prasad Mookherjee who started the Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the precursor to the BJP?

But with the abrogation of Article 370, the BJP had fulfilled one dream of its founding father. What then? Perhaps more than a Congress-mukt Bharat, it is now the ambition of an Opposition-mukt India. And the TMC is one of the few stumbling blocks in its way.

One of the characteristics of totalitarianism is its disdain for intellectual capacity – its anti-liberalism. Perhaps Bengal is the last bastion of liberal forces and a putsch is required. What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow, said an admiring Gokhale. Perhaps that cannot be allowed any longer?

There has been criticism of the lumpenisation of Bengal, not entirely unjustified, but surely much of today’s India is not an epitome of “bhadro” behavior. Certainly, the TMC is no innocent babe. But the BJP is not either.

There has been political violence in Bengal in the past certainly, but the causes were different.

Ultimately, the violence in Bengal’s electoral politics of 2021, unlike in the past, can only be explained by the desperate desire to control the intellectual capacity of the state and its people.

In May 2019, BJP workers shattered, at the Presidency College, Kolkata, a famous statue of Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, the pool of knowledge as he was called, the greatest Bengali intellectual and social reformer of his time.

That vandalism, surely, was no accident.

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About the Author

Nazarul IslamThe Bengal-born writer Nazarul Islam is a senior educationist based in USA. He writes for Sindh Courier and the newspapers of Bangladesh, India and America. He is author of a recently published book ‘Chasing Hope’ – a compilation of his 119 articles.
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