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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 27 New Delhi June 22, 2019

Who Cares for Bengal?

Monday 24 June 2019


by Apoorvanand

The following article was first published in a different form in The Wire ( on June 14, 2018. This is its revised and updated version. Since this piece was written things have changed for the better in Bengal: following a fruitfull meeting with the CM, the junior doctors are back at work, having called off their strike.

Do all of us, those who love Rabindra Sangeet, those who wistfully talk about Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, those who cannot live without Nazrul Islam, those whose first love across generations remains Sukanto Bhattacharji, women and men, ever thankful to Raja Rammohan Roy for his relentless struggle against his own people for abolishing the practice of sati, and this list is long, just sit and wring our hands and let Bengal bleed to death?

Bengal is being ravaged by a cynical game between political parties. It is up for grabs. The Bharatiya Janata Party is relishing the moment and the Trinamul Congress, by its foolishness and hotheadedness is driving the State into the hands of the BJP. Mamata Banerjee needs to realise that she is the Chief Minister of the State and not merely the head of her party. It is unbecoming of her when she says that among the people killed after elections, the number of her people is higher than their (BJP’s) number. All suffering violence are the citizens of Bengal and therefore it is her responsibility, as the CM of the State, to give them a sense of security. It is not for her to only speak for her party members. But we can see that she is doing exactly this. She has started looking partisan and her appeal to save the Bangla culture sounds hollow and unconvincing to the people. Cannot she see that her own party people are now joining the BJP in large numbers?

One knows that the BJP is hell-bent on creating and sustaining violence in Bengal. It knows that this is the route to power in the State. When it demanded its dead to be taken to Kolkata and paraded there, it was merely reading from the script written by the Trinamul Congress in 2009. Then the ruling Left Front was clueless.

Mamata Banerjee should rise above her party and start acting like a leader of the people. One knows that it is difficult for her to shed her excitement and act calmly. But this is the need of the hour. Her response to attack on the doctors by the relatives and friends of a patient in the NRS Hospital is callous and uncharac-teristic of her. She deputed her nephew to issue an officious statement asking the hurt and agitated doctors to resume duty; this has only made them angrier towards her. After all, here is a leader who can rush to the Vidyasagar College after the bust of Vidyasagar was broken but she remains in her office when human beings are violated! It was too late when she decided finally to visit the striking doctors. And when she went to them, instead of adopting a reconciliatory and persuasive role, she started threatening them.

It did not help that the attackers bore a wrong religious identity. The burden of the particular violence is now on the whole community. The leaders of the BJP did not lose a moment to say that it were the Muslims who habitually indulged in violence and were protected by the CM and her party. Her silence and coldness towards the agitation of the doctors is only giving credence to the charge of the BJP. Muslims of the State are paying for her churlish behaviour.

A patient dies in a public hospital. Over- burdened doctors face the wrath of the alleged relatives and friends of the patient (it is no secret that owing to their precarious functioning Calcutta hospitals have become dens of antisocial elements who operate in the guise of the “patient party”). In frustration and retaliation, they strike work. It is a familiar story, repeated time and again, in State after State. Have we ever heard that the attackers did what they did because they belonged to their religion? We can say that in almost all the cases, the violaters are not punished. The demand of the doctors for security also remains where it belongs to. Nowhere have the governments been able to provide a foolproof secure atmosphere to the doctors. They remain vulnerable everywhere.

But when you have a party like the BJP, it makes it sure to underline the religion of the attackers to imply that it is this identity that turned them into attackers. When the CM refuses to open her mouth even to sympathise with the victim doctors, the BJP leaps in joy to say that she is silent because the attackers are Muslims! Sources say that owing to work-load and other reasons that hinder their services the doctors could not show the kindness and sympathy that is generally demanded and expected of a doctor. Then, will the sufferers say that because they were Musalmans they were not treated well? Also, should the Musalmans say that since it is they, being mostly poor, who visit government hospitals, the government hospitals have been made deliberately dysfunc-tional, to discriminate against them? Should we allow a medical issue to be overshadowed by a communal agenda?

To understand the wickedness of its politics you have to read the statement of the State President of the BJP who claims that 47 per cent of the Muslims are criminals. In the same breath, he requests them not to fall in the trap of the CM who is using them to do violence against her opponents! This statistical confidence is fantastic. To reach this exact figure of 47 per cent, you have to be a data-wizard. But we all know that it is a tested technique of magic realism. To make your claim credible you employ statistics. People would dismiss you if you say you have seen elephants flying but they will pause and think when you claim that you have seen exactly 7 elephants flying! It creates an illusion of exactness and truth. The RSS has used this technique and seen that Hindus tend to believe its claim of “We 5, our 25”, that by a particular year the number of Muslims would cross the number of Hindus in India. This “exactitude” lends credence to their claims about Muslims. They would give you the exact number of Hindu women kidnapped and converted by the Muslims.

The BJP would do everything. It believes in SAMA, DAMA, DANDA, BHEDA. Its followers do not mind it. But what about the rest?

Is it not the time for the political class to go to the people and speak against violence? Or, do they also believe that the violence is in the political culture of Bengal and nothing can be done about it? Prakash Karat, when asked about the violence of his party, had expressed helplessness claiming that it was the political culture of the State. The Trinamul has been using violence to deal with its rivals. That becomes the justification for the violence now being employed by the BJP.

Violence begets violence. Each act of violence becomes a justification for the next act of violence. Communal violence then does not look worse than the Left violence and “democratic” violence. We know that communal violence is particularly bad because it creates a permanent divide in the society and makes the members of a community suspect in the eyes of another community. It creates violent competitive communitarian politics. All that is right but it gets justification from other kinds of violence.

Just after the Trinamul party assumed power after dislodging the Left, it started attacking and burning the party offices of the CPM. Some of us, who had opposed the violence of the Left earlier, got worried and prepared a statement criticising the violence on the CPM. While collecting signatures for it, I called a senior cultural figure of Bengal, a revered name who was on the forefront of the opposition to the violence of the CPM. She refused to condemn this reverse violence. It was slightly shocking but not entirely unpredictable.

To say and believe that you cannot do politics in Bengal without violence is an insult to the people of Bengal. But their goodness needs to be organised. Would Rahul Gandhi who keeps talking about the power of love, Sitaram Yechuri, who swears in the name of the people, and Mamata Banerjee, who wants a second renaissance in Bengal, rise to the occasion and lead the people, and the State towards peace? Or, would the rest of the civilised society, poets, writers, journalists, actors, cinema people, students and teachers, watch from the margins while their dear Bengal gets dismantled before their eyes?


The author is a well-known social scientist and a Professor, Department of Hindi, University of Delhi.

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