Last week, senior bureaucrats came calling on the Prime Minister to warn of a fate like Sri Lanka for certain states bent on distributing freebies they cannot afford. And the list included Mamata Banerjee’s West Bengal
West Bengal is today a pale shadow of its glorious past. From being an economic powerhouse at the time of Independence to an impoverished state, Bengal is today all about doles, deprivation and dependence. The state reeks of the stench of underdevelopment and debt and Bengal’s economy is down to levels that will be challenging for any future government to undo. In this backdrop, Mamata Banerjee came out with a ridiculous statement as she compared India’s economy with that of Sri Lanka.
Interestingly, last week, senior bureaucrats came calling on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to warn of a fate like Sri Lanka, or Greece, if not for the whole country, for certain states bent on distributing freebies they cannot afford. And the list included, among others, Mamata’s Bengal and Arvind Kejriwal’s Delhi and Punjab!
Bengal has a sad story to tell. The generation that had once seen the golden days of Bengal is dead. Those alive are the products of the 1960s or ’70s and can mostly remember a Bengal always in a protest mode, with human processions of labour union members marching down the esplanade holding red banners with the Communist emblem on them.
The Calcutta of those times would have dark evenings from regular load shedding due to the power deficit in the state and it was about the same time that all the famous multinational companies who had set up their corporate offices in the city, began to move elsewhere. The Communists had wounded, hurt and humiliated industries so badly by creating a hostile work environment and militant work culture that they all decided to abandon West Bengal, the state which had once been the industrial capital of India.
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Their exit ended the robust environment that had once lured these multinational companies to base their head offices in a city once known for its nightclubs and Park Street. The hammer fell on Bengal’s future ending the era of employment, hope and happiness. The infamous Naxal movement added salt to injury and was a terrible phase for a person’s safety and security in Bengal, a period still spoken of in fear and discomfort by those who remember those days.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) was a terrible curse on Bengal. Their cadre reigned the streets as neighbourhood mafia and whose comrades would strike upon the common citizen anytime. It was no secret that starvation had struck the state as farm growth reduced and poverty rose to its peak. A citizen’s fundamental right to vote was also denied to them when anyone suspected of being in opposition was not allowed to vote. Their threats were so vile that the bravest of Bengalis relented. It was a sad era when farmers and share-croppers lost their land when cadre and their followers forcefully occupied it and indulged in what was called ‘elaka dokhol’.
In 2011, Bengal saw a spark of hope in a woman leader who had been struggling for Bengal’s future since 1990. Mamata Banerjee had become a mass leader because of her sheer self-belief and conviction, that she was born to lead Bengal. People were in awe of her for she was the only one to have the gall to take on the Communist regime and bring its downfall.
Mamata was no ordinary woman. She was a people person in her simple attire and inexpensive slippers. She spoke to Bengalis in Bengali and like a tigress, roared whenever she wanted her way. She sounded assertive and serious and whatever she said, resonated with all. She seemed the only ray of hope during the dreary days of the Communist raj and people put their faith in her.
But once in power, her style of governance looked familiar to that of Communists. It was a replica of the Marxist style of managing the state with rogue sycophants; only this time they were called “party workers”. These party workers were even more aggressive and vengeful, as was seen in the aftermath of the 2021 Assembly elections in Bengal, when BJP workers and their family members were murdered and injured, all for revenge and revelry.
Mamata, just like the Communists, has managed to squash whatever spunk was left of the Bengalis by making them a lazy and dependent lot. Freebies are the surest way to kill a person’s enthusiasm to work hard and eke out a living. It is also the surest way to build a following amongst the poor and attain their blind faith. They continue to kill their fellow Bengalis over political disagreements and party rivalry. The decorum and decency that the Bhadralok culture was so famous for, have declined.
Mamata’s Banerjee’s Bengal has limited work opportunities and whatever work may be there for the poorly skilled or lesser-educated is lapped up by the illegal Bangladeshi immigrants whose entry is encouraged by the government to further strengthen TMC’s Muslim vote bank.
In Bengal, there is an environment of gloom. Youngsters are moderately ambitious because their state only offers moderate opportunities. Those who have left the state after having lost all hopes of any industry ever returning and creating a potent job market, have done well for themselves.
Everyone must take the blame for letting Bengal down, including the politicians and intellectuals, artists and thinkers, the educated and illiterate, and the men and women of Bengal. The politicians did what they wanted to with the state, and the rest did what they knew — to either keep mum or debate, without any follow-up action.
Bengalis, otherwise known to be argumentative and vocal and who have a lot of experience in expressing objection by way of street processions, have sadly never taken to the streets, be it to defy the Communist government or challenge Mamata’s misgovernance. People say that they were afraid then, as they are now. Decades of exposure to Bengal’s intimidatory politics have taught them that any opposition to the regime can lead to personal injury, and destruction of home and property.
When survival becomes a norm, politeness and sobriety take a back seat. Bengal is no longer the place it once was, and the people who have been most affected, still hope for better days to return. In between sadness and loss of hope, they have lost their gentleness, which was once their trademark.
Mamata Banerjee did not just fail herself, she failed the entire state that had seen her in a variety of avatars — as a mother, sister, leader, Hindu, Bengali and human being.
Which mother targets her children after winning an election? Which sister allows her people to fall so precipitously after booting out a three-decade-old regime? Which leader makes her state lame by generously dishing out doles at the cost of the state’s economy? Which Hindu becomes a ‘namazi’ after coming to power, predominantly with the support of Hindus? Which Bengali can generate an exodus of Bengalis from the state, after turning their dream into a nightmare? And which human being will ever allow a Birbhum-like incident to happen in her state?
West Bengal must come out of its coma, or else it will be dead soon.
The writer is an author, poet, and member of the BJP. Views expressed are personal.
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