Red Eye

70 Comments

With Mamata Banerjee shutting out the CPM comprehensively in the Assembly by-elections with the wife of one of its most dependable leaders, the late Subhash Chakraborty, losing her seat the sun looks about to set on the Marxist empire in Bengal, something that many people of my generation never hoped to see, no matter how much they may have wished for it. But then again Caesar never thought his empire would end and neither did Queen Victoria.

I belong to the generation that grew up in the Red shadow. I hated it. Not that I understood much of politics as a young kid, but it does not take much of political antennae to detest hours of power-cuts (“load shedding”) which uncles would say was Jyoti Basu’s gift (There was an amusing political poster in those days –it had a picture of Jesus Christ (Jisu) saying “I will take you from darkness to light and then a picture of Basu (rhymes with Jisu..well kind of) saying “I will take you from light to darkness”). If long hours of darkness before Half Yearly examinations and during Chitrahar was not torture enough, it was even more infuriating to see far more reliable power supply being provided to “government quarters” where some “officials” stayed and even to the club-house of the neighboring “local boys” since they drew power from multiple sectors, under the full patronage of the local administration. I realized soon enough that in CPM rule, there were two kinds of people you did not mess with, two kinds of people who are never wrong—–those who had strength by virtue of position and those who had strength by virtue of numbers. And since a middle-class family like mine did not have either, we were consigned to listening to commentary of cricket matches on our trusty transistor.

As I grew up, the pernicious nature of Left rule became even more evident. The local sweet-shop was taken over by striking CPM workers, got red-flagged, their mishti gujiya started having a sour taste, their customers vanished and then the store fell into ruin, a microcosm of the state of industry in Bengal. A plot of land my parents owned got encroached over by “local boys” with the police turning their backs because they belonged to the “party”.  With impending Madhyamik examinations (Class 10 exams) I came to understand how entrenched the Party was into the education system and how their anti-English anti-“elitist” agenda jeopardized careers, and how the sanest advice that was dispensed would be “Leave the state. Leave the state’s education system.” From scraps of adult conversation I understood how land in Kolkata’s then-hottest township “Salt Lake” was allocated. And how jobs and appointments were doled out in the land of the Left—from the peon at the door to the Vice Chancellor, from the police constable to the professor.

Then came atrocities like Bantala and Birati. There was widespread outrage. Some isolated protests. Some votes lost.

And yet the Left stayed in power as impregnable as ever. “They can never be defeated in the villages” said an uncle who had strong Leftist sympathies “They have done so much work there”. Said another who was not impressed “Work my foot. They seized land from those who had it and gave it to their cadres who vote out of gratitude.” Another uncle who agreed with him said “They rig elections. Scientific rigging they call it.”

There was truth in all of this. And I had seen scientific rigging myself albeit in a very watered down form where CPM “workers” would coax “bhodrolok” to go home by making them get sick and tired of waiting (and then their vote would be cast by a fourteen-year old voting thirty times in a day) by making them stand in the blazing hot sun and by jamming the queue with fraud voters whose sole purpose was to hold things up. It was well known that in the suburbs and in the villages, the Left techniques were ,to put it politely, even more coercive. But even then I did not understand fully why the CPM had no opposition in Bengal. After all ballot boxes were snatched in other parts of the country, there were areas in India far more lawless than in Bengal .

But everywhere power changed hands.

Why not here?

As I see the Left fort crumble today, I ask that question again. In a different way. What happened suddenly? What changed?  Surely elections can be rigged even now. If villagers were so dead afraid of the CPM-police combine in the 80s and 90s why is the entire Left machinery in retreat today, scared to go into vast areas of the state they still rule? People in the rural regions were well used to Left corruption, having seen decades of how bricks, cement and sand would mysteriously arrive at the local CPM dada’s house and how government purchasing favored local boys even when they were selling at many times the market rate. So there is nothing earth-shaking they are seeing now that they have not seen before.

Mamata and her branch of politics has also been here since the 80s and though the Congress-TMC combine consolidates opposition support, it must be remembered that Mamata was once Congress and that there was just one opposition party in Bengal.

What’s new all of a sudden?

Certainly the Naxals are more powerful than ever before providing more sophisticated weaponry to disaffected sections of the population. Certainly many of the old CPM “boys” have changed parties. But that is not the cause merely a symptom of a more basic malaise.

I will not claim I understand everything. At least not now. Maybe perspective will be needed before a fuller analysis can be done. However what I can say is that one of the main reasons, if not the principal one, for the revolution is because Buddhadeb Bhattacharya is no Jyoti Basu.

How he compares to Jyoti-babu as an administrator and a CM may be a matter of debate (I would say Buddha-babu is streets ahead). What however is undeniable is that he never quite had Jyoti-babu’s political acumen and more accurately his knowledge of the psychology of his state.

Jyoti-babu understood the secret to staying in power in Bengal. That of keeping up appearances of being the “little guy”. The underdog. Bengalis, even more than macher jhol and Ganguly, love the ideal of the dispossessed, the simple and the honest fighting against the big bad wolves. If I had a paisa for everytime I heard a Bengali say “So-and-so could have been rich/famous but chose not to” I would have been one of the Ambani brothers. This peculiar aversion for success is what explains why Bengalis are Leftists at heart, why they love nothing more than to see big corporations bite the dust even when it means that their state falls even further behind, which is why they will put their feet on their axe for the sake of “idealism”, misplaced and suicidal it may be.

Jyoti babu knew this and how to play to it. When the Bakreswar power plant got stalled due as much to his government’s intransigence as the Congress central government’s intentional neglect, he painted it as the battle between David and Goliath with drama like “Bangali youth will sell blood to finance Bakreswar” which the state totally lapped up. When industries closed in the State and capital fled, he said “Good riddance ! They want to exploit us and we won’t stand for it”. Bangalis applauded—yes that’s showing those fatcats ! After all as a teacher of mine, with well-known party affiliation said one day with barely concealed pride ” Aare baba. We are not Gujarat”. In personal life, he too never went for the ostentation of a Jayalalitha or a Laloo. People never rolled at his feet or drew his pictures with blood. Appearances of humility were always maintained.

People grumbled about the Left. But when it came to election day, they would still vote for the “little guys”, even though calling them little in Bengal would be like calling Tuntun size zero.

This is where Buddha dropped the ball. In his rush to accomplish “something”, he became associated with the “bad guys”—multinationals, business houses, the ones who grab land and eat babies for lunch. Suddenly Bengalis were able to shake off their ennui, suddenly all the malignancy of the Left became evident to them, suddenly the penny dropped.

When party hacks robbed people in broad daylight, occupying  land and property that did not belong them it was “Oho poor people what can they do !” When a retired man whose life-savings had been put inside a plot of land had to see it taken over by the community boys wanted to use it as their football ground,  people said “Oho poor boys where will they play?” When family businesses built up through generations of labor and sacrifice were taken by force of muscle, people said “Oho poor workers why should they be deprived?”

Every act of strongarm, every act of violence and intimidation was kosher because the perps were “little guys” or portrayed as such.

But now when the same thing happens (actually not really the same because the Tatas were buying at above market prices from the actual owners who held the titles and not just breaking legs and burning huts [a more detailed analysis here]), the same people discover “property rights” . This is because evil corporations and the big guys are now in the mix.

And who is caught helping them in their capitalist plans of world domination?

CPM.

As Mukul discovered fake Dr. Hajra’s evil intentions in “Sonar Kella” only when he shot at the peacock ( “Tumi dushtu lok” [You are an evil man]), the people of Bengal have finally stumbled, with similar naivete, upon the villain. Ironically at a time when it has been the least villainous it has been in decades.

I have said this before also on my blog. Mamata is the new Left. The new Jyoti Babu. The new champion of the downtrodden. Who has remembered that one golden rule, the second part of which Buddha had forgotten.

That there were two kinds of people you do not mess with, who are never wrong—–those who have strength by virtue of position and those who have strength by virtue of numbers.

And so the fall of the Left comes close. The Huns are at the gate and Atilla is roaring. The Goths are running loose in the countryside liberating vast tracts of the empire. The Red Legion, depleted and morose, are coming out holding their Communist manifestos and preparing for their last stand.

What I had always wanted to see is now at hand. Yet I feel no pleasure. Instead I am overwhelmed my sadness. Not because Buddha’s Left was good. But because what it is to come will be far far worse.

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70 thoughts on “Red Eye

  1. f I had a paisa for everytime I heard a Bengali say “So-and-so could have been rich/famous but chose not to” I would have been one of the Ambani brothers.

    LMAO!!

    On a serious note, it is truly sad to see the new Left come to power and expect a throwback to the 70’s and 80’s.. Quite an in-depth and revealing analysis of the events

  2. Two states that need major positive transformations are UP and West Bengal. Even Bihar, MP and Rajasthan are transforming even if it is not as fast as it can/should be.

    PS: Do we really need this first, second and third iPod even on a post like this?

  3. I disagree with you. Getting rid of commies is a good thing. Mamata is not that good, but she is better than commies. We need to get rid of leftist culture in Bengal.

  4. Arnab,

    I read your blog quite often. I am a so called “Northy”, staying in Kolkata for the past 5 years. You describe the past of the state in amazing clarity. Outsiders (I mean people from outside WB) do not know all this stuff. I myself learned of these CPM tactics only when I came here. You can still see some of the tactics regarding local auto rickshaws. Their routes, rates, stands etc are all fixed by CPM (incidentally, only WB is the place where the party decides at what rate and on which route autos will run, the transport department merely looks).

    I also understand that Mamata belongs to the same old school philosophy, but still, unlike you, I am not sad. You have shifted out of the state and so may not feel the pulse of today’s corporate workers and youth (yes there is an infant IT industry in Sector V 🙂 ). All of them are pro-reforms. There are large number of teachers in academic institutions who support reforms (Earlier most of them were pro-CPM, but slowly people are realizing as well as fed-up of being fed the rhetoric).

    There was a time in British ruled India when the Congress party was criticized for having reforms too slowly (In fact, some historians believe that it was one reason for the growth of militant nationalism). But one of the leaders (I think Norouji) said (not exact words, but the essence was the same) “I see it as a victory for the Congress. People are asking for more reforms, ore power. It is our platform that has made them so much politically educated.” I think the same is going to happen in WB.

  5. @Anonymous:

    The point is (not the first time I have said this) that Mamata is more Left than the current Left in terms of her ideology, method of struggle and political vision. So be careful what you wish for.

  6. I share a lot of similar experiences as you have elaborated all over about the DADA’s of CPM. Still, my feeling is that Mamta is even a bigger threat than the Reds themselves. Its like going from bad to worse. She herself is a threat to whole of Bengal (as she has shown with the railway ministry in her hands in the past). Other than that she coming into power will piss the Red Dada’s even more. So all in all an impulsive Didi & raged Dada is to what Bengals future is heading to.

  7. Hi,

    I cannot agree with you more. The people of Bengal just dont know what they are going in for………I definitely not a supporter of left but TMC cannot be an answer to them………..I can’t figure out how educated people from Kolkata is voting for TMC. All the best for the generation which is growing up now, dont want to see a repitition when a brilliant SIBPUR enginner gets rejected by all good companies beacuse of his lack of English communications skills.

  8. I have a slightly different perspective. I feel it is too much of a generalisation to state that all/most Bengalis always vote for the ‘little’ man and that is the main reason for the CPM’s failure.

    While the proclivity towards Leftist ideology among Bengalis is undeniable, there was also a resignation among them that because of the CPM’s stranglehold over all government, public service and educational institutions, there was no way they would ever relinquish power. There was little the common man could do. Voting for the opposition was a waste anyway, so many people either stayed away from the polls or just voted for the local CPM neta.

    When Mamata arrived on the scene, she was considered little more than an upstart drama queen (the second appellation still stands, of course) and people dismissed her as just a rabble rouser (which, again, she was/is). The feeling among the people and the CPM was that she would soon blow over and go away, at most to the Center, and the state would revert to the usual CPM playground. The problem was that Mamata didn’t go away. She kept nibbling away at the heels of the CPM for years, gnawing away political capital bite by bite, eking our small victories, one at a time, till she began to be seen as a political heavyweight as the TMC. But winning a few elections doesn’t give you a state. Mamata knew that better than anybody. So she slowly started building up her own ‘cadre’. What this entailed was take a few unemployed youths, of whom there are legion in WB, and give them some money to change affiliations. As Mamata’s clout grew so did her cadre. Most importantly, since the cadre had been drawn from the same well as the CPM, they could pay the CPM goons back in the same coin when and where required.

    Then came Nandigram, and the rest is history. Nandigram served two purposes – to expose, as Arnab rightly says, the CPM as a money-hungry Capitalist serving entity, and also as generally being clueless and detached from what people really want. After that, the deluge. This was followed in succession by Singur and Lalgarh, where the Naxals further queered the pitch for the CPM. Suddenly they were forced to take up arms against the tribals who were being egged on by the Naxalite leaders, who had sensed the weakness of the present government. Mamata, who had been supporting the Naxals so far made a complete about turn and accused the CPM of being hand in glove with them. This has led to a piquant situation where each side is accusing the other of working with Naxals! 🙂

    In the meanwhile, West Bengal had woken up to a barely-credible reality where the CPM goons were not omniscient. They were actually being beaten up and ‘bhagao-ed’ in several areas by Mamata’s gang. It was a revelation – hey these guys could be beaten, and how. Sensing the winds of change, more and more erstwhile CPM heavies defected to Mamata, prominently from the Government departments and the Police. Those rats know when the tide has turned and when it is time to desert a sinking ship.
    The point is – this has happened over some time, and for a variety of reasons that I believe would are more important than just the change in leadership of the CPM. I believe that even if Jyoti Basu were at the helm, the result would still have been the same today.

    Unfortunately, the people of WB are going from the frying pan into the fire. But at least it’s a change. And looking at it optimistically, WB might think this way – change has finally happened, it is possible. If Mamata cannot deliver, it can happen again.

  9. “This peculiar aversion for success is what explains why Bengalis are Leftists at heart, why they love nothing more than to see big corporations bite the dust even when it means that their state falls even further behind, which is why they will put their feet on their axe for the sake of “idealism”, misplaced and suicidal it may be.”

    GB,
    These are exactly my thoughts (given voice by a Bengali). So my next question to you is – Will Bengal ever get out of this mess? I mean, in not choosing Left this time, they’ve chosen some one who is more left than the original left. So where is the redemption going to come from? Or please tell me – Were they seeking redemption at all?
    Does it give sadist pleasure to people over there, when they’re laughed at for their attitude you’ve so bluntly put? Why would they not chose something better for a change?

    Is your answer to these questions – “We are like that only” ?

    If yes, then should anyone feel sorry for general public in Bengal?

  10. Hello GB,
    another amazing post about the past and present (and future) political situation in Bengal.

    But i will choose to disagree here. Because as much as you place the reasoning solely behind ‘underdog-loving’ culture of Bengali, I think that’s not the only reason. I seriously think so.

    Maybe Mamata is the new left. Maybe the change will be for worse if not better. But there is definite sense of hope which is at work. Albeit it is mixed with large amount of anxiety for the same reasons as mentioned by you, but still there is. Correct me if I am wrong, but there was always a sizable urban middle class which was anti-left. Of course it was never enough, but there was. And now they are also voting for Mamata, even after Singur. I am telling this from my personal experience with people I know (family, friends etc). Why? Maybe for revenge, just to fulfil the lifelong dream of seeing the end of Red which was in the realm of impossible just a few years back. There is a feeling that, Mamata should be given a chance at least.

    The left debacle in the rural Bengal is another story altogether and difficult to analyze for people like me. But, I have a hunch the new generation left leadership (the grass-route one, you know local office, councilor and panchayat etc) is not as cunning as the old one. The oldies knew how to balance the muscle power with other wheeling dealings (“paiye dewa-r rajniti” as we call it). New generation (Sushanta Ghosh for example) is over-confident and over-dependent on the might but lacks the political acumen. Also add CPM’s arrogance and alienating its allies which played a small part IMO (again, Biman Basu is nowhere close to the late Anil Biswas).

    Apologies for the too long (and not not so coherent I am afraid) comment, but i felt there are many small but collectively significant reasons behind this upheaval currently undergoing in Bengal.

  11. Arnab
    for one angle TMC is better than the CPM:
    [edit: No abuse].
    if that is so, we will have to gift Bengal to Bangla Desh and move on. or perhaps, you can return and rule 🙂

  12. Am posting in the comments section after a long time. I have moved to Calcutta(Joka Management College), and I couldn’t agree more with you. What I feel won’t happen is that Mamata is making the right noises now to get into power. Once she gets in, I doubt she’ll stick to her rhetoric.
    Again, TMC is based on a personality cult. It will take one scandal to bring her down. And with her, the party goes down too. CPM has that smokescreen of ‘ideology’, which the TMC lacks. For all their ugliness, the CPM at least stuck to whatever they stood for- unlike Mamata who shifted from BJP to Congress.
    I am not being a CPM apologist. I am just trying to analyse it in terms of politics. More than anything else, I feel West Bengal needs someone who is just a good administrator. People just need a government that works fine.
    PS- As a kid did you live in the campus faculty quarters?

  13. The article sounded like RSS historians anecdotal history.Off course, GB is entitled to publish his opinions on state of affairs in West Bengal. However, it should always be backed by facts & figures for a balanced & objective analysis of Left rule in Bengal.
    Any such analysis would reveal successes like land reforms, reduction of poverty, improving literacy rate, rural electrification to name a few. Careful analysis would also himalayan blunders such as driving industry out of Bengal in terms of mandays lost, pathetic failure of primary education (high drop-out rates), poor teacher-student ratio, almost non-existent healthcare facilities in rural Bengal etc etc.
    However, it’d be rather immature to believe that Left ruled Bengal through electoral malpractices when statistical evidence suggests something else.
    All said and done, I liked GB’s style of presenting his opinion.

  14. Given the current spate of victories for DiDi and the sinkin feeling in the CPM camp, one can safely assume that the Assembly Elections will plunge the entire WB in total state of war. Not being sympathetic, but I still feel that CPM will not give up their “onek diner gorom kora” chairs so easily.
    Yes they have taking quite a walloping in the recent past, but surely they will not go down without a decent fight.

    But lets ask a few questions here:
    If Didi does manage to beat them, how long will she last at the helm of affairs? How quickly will the red bastion make the re-entry?

  15. Telegraph & Anandabazar should publish this post!

    Communities adopts traits/habits depending on the situations it faced …
    and later it becomes overused and silly…

    Like sikh ingrained bravery…

    (and presently…comparatively sikh youths show “bravery” in wrong circumstances .. keep turban and kirpan even when its risky. eg classroom, airplane etc.)

    Bengalis ingrained compassion …

    (and presently…comparatively bengalis show “compassion” in wrong circumstances.)

    How can we fasten the learning process of societies/communities ..so that they can realise such things!

  16. “However, it should always be backed by facts & figures for a balanced & objective analysis of Left rule in Bengal.”

    The fact & figures reveal absolute failure of the left government in most of the fronts. Even the so-called successes like land reforms were limited in scope benefiting only the loyal cadres of CPM. The tables linked in this article reveal the true picture of the ineptness of the three decade long rule of the leftists in West Bengal.

    http://sanhati.com/excerpted/857/

    “Over the period from the 1980s onwards, West Bengal’s relative ranking in terms of per capita SDP has fallen significantly; in terms of several human development indicators, West Bengal has been losing ground in comparison to other states as well. Broadly, it seems to be the case that whereas West Bengal started the decade of the 1980s as a relatively high income Indian state, it has fallen to the rank of a lower-middle income state over the next two decades, precisely when it was being steered by the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government.

    Whatever land reforms and progressive legislation was enacted in West Bengal, though beneficial, was extremely limited in scope. It left the bottom rung of rural society – the landless laborers and the poor peasants – completely untouched and replaced the landlords with the rich and middle peasants as the new ruling class. Since the growth of the ‘internal market’ was thereby rather limited, the boost to economic growth was equally feeble. Neither did the state government take much pro-active steps to channelize the economic surplus into productive investments or take the land reforms to the next step of collective, cooperative farming. Though it made some efforts at state action on the input side of agricultural production, it completely failed to make any inroads on the output side; the result was the continued domination of monopolies and, as a result, wastage of a considerable part of the economic surplus. In fact, come the 1990s, just like any other state in the grip of neoliberal ideology, it has gradually whittled down public investment in rural infrastructure, let the public distribution system go to the dogs, let the public irrigation system lose its efficacy, let rural moneylenders make an ignominious comeback; instead of working out and implementing pro-people policies, the party behind the State, has spent most of its efforts in ensuring, by hook and by crook, continuance in office.”

  17. Hmmmm…much worse than the CPM nightmare of the last 30 years.??

    The one thing that could drastically go down is Law and order. Under CPM there was a semblance of order which will now disappear from the rural areas. However after the initial anarchy of the next five years things can only improve.
    We really cant go down too much further than where we are already. Perhaps mainstream political parties like the BJP and Congress can make a foothold after the red bastion collapses. maybe even new ones we dont know of.

    One thing is for certain though. If and when CPM is dethroned there is going to be bloodletting on a pretty large scale. Somehow we have to survive that phase.
    If you have major grudges against CPM dadas from the past, this is your best chance to get even…)

  18. This superb post helped me in fitting many pieces of the jigsaw of Bengal history…
    True, the left has played spoilsport wherever it has got even an ounce of power..
    even my home state kerala is no different..though we were fortunate to have the rotation of right and left every 5 years…

  19. @ Arnab
    Very nicely written.
    The fact that Mamata is now more Left than the “Left” and that Bengal is now caught between a rock and a hard place and a cynide capsule (the Maoists), is becoming increasingly evident.

  20. R Sengupta wrote:
    “The article sounded like RSS historians anecdotal history.Off course, GB is entitled to publish his opinions on state of affairs in West Bengal”.

    @ GB
    Awwww!!

    @ R Sengupta:
    You should thank the RSS and its partner in “crime” Hindu Mahasabha and Shyama Prasad Mookerjee for sitting in a Bengal, that is part of India.

    If Jinnah had his way (which ofcourse the Leftists supported), entire Bengal would have been part of East Pakistan and your (or your fathers) skeleton would have been rotting in some canal.

  21. GB, you were never very smart, so I do not expect an intelligent answer from you. But have you ever bothered to assess Mamata’s level of success/promptness when she chose to take up an administrative/developemental endeavour (railways/metro extension)? That is what will determine her success and contribution to Bengal’s development when she comes to power. Not her resistance to previous projects (whether that was right or wrong is a totally different debate). Couldn’t resist saying this, don’t bother to reply. I do not expect an answer worth reading from a person who is in academics/”research” because it provides a certain cover from the real world (not belittling academics’, but I know you, and I know that you can never live upto the true sense of that word) and therefore can never understand what it means to have the capacity to deliver something concrete as opposed to being all about gestures or WORDS. No, it is not possible for you to get past Mamata’s rough edges. You don’t have it in you. Simple as that.

  22. Greatbong: Very well written article, However, for not as well informed people like me, can you throw some light on the following two —

    “atrocities like Bantala and Birati”
    &
    “how land in Kolkata’s then-hottest township Salt Lake was allocated”

  23. @Ramrajvi: I wish I knew. Sometimes I feel despondent and sometimes I feel hope. That good sense will dawn on my state.

    @Coldshiver: They were rape cases that took place where the perps were tied to the Party. And Salt Lake land was not sold but leased in a supposedly “fair” way—except the allocation of leases was anything but fair with what you got and how much you got being a function of your affinity to the bigwigs in the Party.

  24. After Dr B.C.Roy, West Bengal has been through a leadership crisis. There hasn’t been any leader who really has the vision to sail the ship. Yes @greatbong you are absolutely correct, Mamata is playing the same card. Although I believe CPM are like cancer, but Budhha seems to be doing some good to Bengal- at least he thinks dynamically and trying.
    Mamata is too fickle minded and that’s are greatest weakness!!!
    I want to share a poem which I read on one of the walls long time back in my childhood days —

    Esheche sorot.. bereche khoroch..
    Berechhe Jyotir bhuri….
    Taina dekhe Chondon kore…
    Du haath bhore churi…

  25. I have read all your posts over the last two months, but have never commented by virtue of my inertia..
    However, this post forced me to examine some aspects.. Like the fact that my father’s elder brothers (jethus) didn’t allow him to study in JU in early 70’s (he was getting his preferred choice of mechanical engg there). They instead forced him to study outside the state in Rourkela. The reason was that any young 20s male in Calcutta at that time could have been randomly picked by the police and incarcerated for being an alleged Naxal sympathetic.
    How the fact that my maternal grandfather (who is an emigrated Bangal) came to Calcutta in 1947, started teaching in one of the colleges, and eventually became the principal of the college, bought his own land and built his own house. Parts of that land have now been taken over in the last 2 years by the neighbourhood “para club” for a clubhouse… Everytime I go to my Dadu’s place, I see their glittering building with them playing cards and drinking on my Dadu’s land. The empty bottles remind me why my parents left Bengal.

    I came to Calcutta alomst 1.5 years ago (I grew up outside Bengal, but within India) for my management studies. I read in the newspapers that Calcutta was changing, that indstries were coming in, and at the forefront were the IT companies. Even my favorite ToI writers like Jug Suraiya (who considers himself to be an honorary bong) said they could see the change in Calcutta…

    Then Nandigram and Singur happened..

    @Somitra: Isn’t it true that Infosys and other IT companies have virtually abandoned their office construction plans?

    The fact is, day by day, Industries are AGAIN leaving Bengal. No more do you see Japanese Industry heads hob-nobbing with the govt (as was the case 2 years ago). No more do you see newspaper headlines where IT industries are “actively considering investing in the state”. Only small news articles about how yet another corporation is closing shop.

    2 years ago, I was a principal force in forcing my dad to buy a flat in Calcutta for their retirement stay. Maybe I should take the role of my Jethus now.

    I share in your hope and despondency, Arnab. The saying “the more things change, the more they remain the same” might well have been a Bengal copyright like darjeeling tea.

  26. @What’s New?
    Thanks for reminding metro projects. As a TMC supporter, your punishment is to stand at metro stations and tell commuters :

    Kavi Nazrul stands for Garia Bazar
    Gitanjali stands for Naktala
    Masterda Surya Sen stands for Bansdroni
    Netaji stands for Kudghat &
    Mahanayak Uttamkumar stands for Tollygunge !!

    btw would you like to do a background check on arnab’s PHD ??!!!
    oops …wrong question!!!

  27. @ Pravin: True, the left has played spoilsport wherever it has got even an ounce of power..even my home state kerala is no different..though we were fortunate to have the rotation of right and left every 5 years

    Dood, the grass is always greener on the other side. Do you think that states not ruled by left have fared any better? At least, Kerala despite its slow economic growth is not Orissa, Bihar, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand or UP. Maharashtra from being one of the best administered state has become one of the worst administered ones in last 20 years. Without leftists in power, it is suffering from power-cuts/load-shedding that make West Bengal look like an enlightened state. Even Gujarat is more hype than performance

    Have a look at the tables in the Sanhati article link I’ve posted in my previous comment. Kerala ranks higher than most Indian states on most indicators. Its average annual compound growth rate of PCSDP is second highest after Goa. Per Capita SDP-wise it ranks a decent eleventh ahead of high-growth states like TN & Karnataka. Life-expectancy at birth is highest in Kerala while infant mortality rate is lowest at 15 compared to national average of 57 per 1000. And of course, you know that Kerela has the highest literacy rates in India.

    In India, all states irrespective of the political party that administers them are badly managed. While the left governments in WB or Kerela have not fared better than Congress or BJP governments, they haven’t done as badly as left-haters make out to be.

  28. As another Nirjhar says ,truly there has not been another great leader like Mr B.C. Ray in whole Indian politics (leaving apart Netaji & CR Das) ,who can really change things .But i really doubt whether he could have been as successfull now when we ourselves cant choose a leader :-).
    According to me still people enter politics for greed and as they say ,
    “Greed corrupts,and absolute greed absolutely corrupts”(instead of power) .
    So if TMC they come to power ,they will be more faster in accumulating wealth (if CPM has left any worthy thing behind ) than CPM as they have never sniffed wealth before .

    @Nirjhar : I agree with you that Buddha babu is still trying to do something ,but I disagree with the poem that Chandan is doing choori(Theft),actually it is called dine doopore dakati(Robbery in daylight).If you want a proof pls visit Hyatt ,where he holds significant ownership.

    But opposite to what GreatBong says in his last sentence ,I narrate the words written under the statue of Bidhan babu near Indira Niwas in Bidhan Nagar .”We look forward to future with confidence “.Dont know what Bidhan babu meant with those words .

    Overall I really thank GB for this post ,atleast we discussed and vented our minds at the shoddy state of things happening in our so called “amader kollolini tillottoma” Kolkata.Hope one day it really becomes tillottoma .

    In the words of Tagore :
    Aji a probhate robir kor ,kemone poshilo praner por ….
    kemone poshilo guhar adhare ,prabhat pakhir gaan ..

    Hope one day we come out of this darkness and hope it will not be again a Nirjharer Swapnobhango …

    Rgds,
    Cascades Broken Dream

  29. It would be an incomplete analysis of the rise and fall of the Left in Bengal without mentioning the land reforms propagated by them. If you want to compare the effects of land reforms on WB’s social landscape, compare it with the adjacent state of Bihar which has had no significant land redistribution till date and is consequently racked by social inequity and caste tension. This one single step got the Left the undying gratitude of an entire generation who unfailingly went to vote time and again for them.

    However, the natural progression of any economy is that all agricultural reforms must be followed by industrial development. The Left never took to industrialisation and this was their greatest failure. The next generation of voters who wanted industrial growth and the economic opportunites which come with it, rightly blamed the Left for the lack of industry in the state. This generation has now reached a critical mass and have outnumbered the Left’s loyal votebank.

  30. Ex-Intellectual does have a point (I am not sayng this since I am also from Kerala). I hate CPM. I hate left.

    What especially surprised me was the shallowness of this artcile.
    GB : What happned to you ?

    You are analysing the reason for left’s dpwnfall without even a mention of Nandigram and Singur. Its one thing that u may favour handing over of fertile land to tatas.
    But what these incidents brought out was the true nature of CPM cadres in WB. Armed goons in motor cycles without number plates going around killing people in true Indonesian commie style .. My Gawd !!!
    And for the first time the “eternal captive voters” of CPM found their true vpice.. Mamta and maoists proved it to them tht they can fight against the CPM cadres..
    That, I believe , is the real reason for CPM guys getting it back.
    Its payback time for CPM…

  31. there is a saying in bengali “je jaye lonkaye shei hoye rabon”- roughly translated: whoever goes to SriLanka becomes Ravana. For us who live in WB, it is a devil’s choice. Majority of us dont expect anything from TMC – we know that they are worse than CPM because TMC is based on one person alone – the famous or infamous Didi – and that itself is not a good sign for democratic set up. Yet the reason TMC is coming to power is that CPM should be taught a lesson that nobody can be so arrogant, so callous. After another five years we will for sure see a less arrogant CPM in power. What a choice we have!!!
    lastly, why cant the commenters agree to disagree – why the personal name calling?

  32. Don’t be condescending and assume Mamata will be worse. Give her a chance and then see if she prove you right. Or are you afraid she might prove you wrong?

  33. // Dood, the grass is always greener on the other side. Do you think that states not ruled by left have fared any better? //

    Ex-Intellectual, I have one qn: for you being a fellow malayali (though my mother tongue is tamil).

    Left leaders, as you may be knowing, have this air of being “know-alls”. They think, believe and try to tell others that they have a mono[oly over being right always. thier intellectuals also carry the same air. and thats why the responses of the above kind dont hold any water.

    It is not sufficient if WB is better than Lalu’s Bihar.

    CPM should have made WB a model state for the whole world. Dude, they ruled their for 30+ years.

    Infact, WB is not better than Bihar at all. Its as bad as Bihar.
    And mamata di has given the confidence to the people that the CPM could be voted out and people are voting against CPM with renewed confidence !!!!!!

  34. I personally feel Mamata is a much better alternative, at least her intentions seem better, and anyways anything is better than the systematic destruction the left has brought upon us for teh alst 30 years…

  35. @Rags,

    I’m neither a malayali nor a bengali, not from Kerela nor from WB

    Please read my first comment. “The fact & figures (relating to WB) reveal absolute failure of the left government in most of the fronts. Even the so-called successes like land reforms were limited in scope benefiting only the loyal cadres of CPM.”

    Why would I present statistics damning the left if I was their apologist or affiliated with them in any way?

    My view is that not only this article, but most analysis of performances or non-performances of political parties are shallow, heavily biased and sorely lacking in indepth understanding of the reasons that drive Indian polity.

  36. @Ex-Intellectual:

    I wonder if is this article and this blog in general is shallow do you waste so much time commenting here? I am sure someone as deeply knowledgable as yourself can have your own blog or book and be another Arundhati Roy (hopefully she does not engage in monopolistic practices on the rent-a-quote-pat-me-on-my-head-oh-West market and restrict your entry to this market).

    I wonder why you do not. Could it be because you are a moronic loser who suffers from “I am so great and yet noone hears me. And look here is this guy who has such a huge audience and so let me try to hijack his audience” malaise ? Or could it be that the only depth you know is that inside your own anal passage up which your swollen cranium is wedged?

  37. Why are we suddenly so afraid that what is coming will be worse than what we have? This is democracy. If the people are willing after five years again we can throw out the bad and choose another.
    We the urban middle-class people really truly have never faced political pressure, gang wars etc. etc. It is the lower poorer-class and rural people who have to depend on the political machinery much more. The Left had used this class and thrown them. With Nandigram and Singur these people have realised that EVEN THE LEFT CAN BE BEATEN. SO even the weakest of the weak has come out to beat the fallen Lion. Last Loksabha elections were first time votes for many over-40 voters in rural WB. Courtesy the CRPF.
    For the betterment of our state, lets hope for change and lets keep this change dynamics in motion even after 2011. Let every politiocian understand (whether Buddha or Mamata) that ultimate power rests with the people.

  38. west bengal needs a change. enough of left rule. what’s coming may not be any better. in a perverse sort of way, even this is to be welcomed. for, five years of mamata will show her up in true light — a rabble rouser, nothing more. then, maybe congress will step in once again. i, for one, don;t mind a regime change every five years. let west bengal give each of the three sides its turn in writers buildings. that;s the only way, everyone will be under some check.

  39. For once I feel that your views on the CPM were that of an urban middleclass man like me, but I have my mamabari in rural areas (a true rural area not mofossol as we call some townships) where there are large number of people of my class who still say that CPM were doing a good job rather than stating it bluntly like you did that they rigged elections at times. Lot of good work had been done & some good work at times have also been undone (durgapur, kalyani, etc etc are examples of that) as for mamata she deserves a chance, but the people around her will ruin the show completely.

  40. Hi GreatBong,

    Stop spreading cliches about the left in West Bengal.
    You claim that it had destroyed the education system how do you explain yourself .You seem to be doing quite well in the US after having your education in that state.After 30 years it may be time for change but do not spread lies and rumours about the left.

  41. There were no posters of Jyoti BAsu and Jishu as you mentioned in your article snother of your lies.
    As a person born in 1977 and having seen the left since childhood can definitely say that.
    You are a Hindu supremist and hence no wonder you will spread such lies.
    Better stick to your Movie comments much more amusing and entertaining.

  42. I don’t support Mamata’s ideology and agree she has understood the Jyoti Basu trick or may be is getting lucky. But the bigger picture is we need the left to fall. There will be anarchy after that but that will not be sustainable, coz Mamata unlike the commies don’t have clarity and single mindedness (however faulty the commie ideology is ) and hence after that anarchy there will be reforms. May be not in next 5 years but sure after that. and so I for one is happy.

  43. “What I had always wanted to see is now at hand. Yet I feel no pleasure. Instead I am overwhelmed my sadness. Not because Buddha’s Left was good. But because what it is to come will be far far worse.”

    Exactly my feelings. Mamata’s brothers are well known goons in South Calcutta areas (developers now). She has a fake degree from USA. It is not a surprise that anyone with a modicum of intelligence would want to jump ship and dump Trinomool.

  44. @ Arijit

    You are clearly a moron. Great Bong was educated at SPHS, which is one of the best schools in India, if not the world. It is also privately run. I can assure you that the majority of hundreds of thousands of students that came through the West Bengal state supported education system are not doing too well. By and large, while the state rigged grading of papers at the secondary and HS level to ensure the toppers came from the villages, most JEE, IIT, IIM seats went to city kids from private schools. This has been known for a long time. Now one might argue that the private school kids had extra support/help but this was definitely not the case 40 years ago when public schools produced many, many talented and bright kids.

    And yeah…I too fondly remember the Jyoti Basu poster and a few more…

    1) Jyoti Basur dui konna — khora ebong bonya
    2) Chiner dewa kashte haturi, Pakistaner tara, er pore ki bolte hobe desher shotru kara?

    No lies…just the facts sir!

    The worst part of this is folks like GB and myself see Mamata as the inferior ALTERNATIVE.

  45. Pingback: The Fading of the Red « Hamara Congress

  46. @Arijit:

    If you come on a blog to defend the CPM and the Left, at least be a bit ore informed and intelligent about it, rather than just calling Arnab a liar. We all know what has happened to WB in the last 30 years. Yet you are defending it. This flies in the face of all reason and goes into the realm of hallucination.

    Maybe you should see a doctor.

  47. “But because what it is to come will be far far worse.” – how prophetic!!! have u read that Suman is already so upset with the dirty politics of other trinamul party big bosses that he is contemplating resigning from MP and also the party!!!! at least left parties did not start inner fighting so openly so early – thus it already looks like it is going to get “far far worse’!!!!

  48. And thus Mamata is starting off from where the Left is signing off on..I think the political DNA in our state is pro paralysis…anything that moves is just not on..you have an idea or a project..the ecosystem will try to kick into a self defence mode so that balance can be restored..Arnab, I tend to agree with you, that at the moment, without the benefit of perspective and time on our side, this would seem to be the most potent cause for the downfall of the Left..that they tried to do something constructive..

    They have gifted their core positioning away to Mamata on a platter..so that she and her band of merry men can espouse the cause of the ‘shorbohara’ and reinvest all their energies in restoring the status quo..

    If there ever has been anyone who has been Jyoti Basu’s truest disciple, its our beloved Didi..

  49. This proves that the voters of WB just cannot tolerate reforms if they hurt the hypothetical “little guy”. Then can we really blame the CPM or TMC for doing what it takes to get elected?

    When the CPM turned “less villainous” bongs rallied for Mamata Bandh-opadhaye. How then can u blame her for her Singur mess if she owes her electoral victory to that.

    The psyche of the bong voter is more to blame than the pathetic leaders of WB and also for the supposed lack of choice in political leadership. Why wud a politician of any party bother to run on a platform of development and investment in WB? It won’t impress the “cultured” bongs.

    PS. I thank my ancestors for leaving WB in the 1920s. Most probashis feel the same way.

  50. Dear Shan,

    Would really like to know what happened which is not hapeening in other parts of India?Please tell me.
    I am currently in Bangalore supposed to be the IT capital of India–but the powercuts happen so often and at all times of the year not only in summer like in Kolkata that you wonder why no one says anything about it?
    Look at Maharastra supposed to be one of the richest state—ever heard of a part called Vidarbha famous for farmer suicides?
    Look at Gujarat and it riots(a point I am sure Arnab will very easily not mention).Look at Haryana supposed to be another rich state—it is also famous for highest number of killings of the female foetus.Can go on like this for each and every state.West Bengal is not of gold and neither ar the leftists good.But one needs to look at the entire picture look at the country of which it is part of India—a country calling itself a democracy and still is esentially been ruled by 1 family since independence.Isnt that laughable?

  51. Arnab,

    First off, fantastic article! I wish the editors of the Calcutta based newspapers wrote such stuff, even in the Bengali ones. I agree with you on what the CPM has brought/introduced to West Bengal: intellectual stagnation, political violence, and economic decline. But why did people support them for so long? Here the answer is a bit more complex and still more devious than the sheer gratefulness of the peasantry.

    During “Operation Barga”, carried out in the very early years of CPIM rule, the land distribution was done in a rather peculiar way . Actual proprietorship of land was never distributed (a fact that is key to understanding Singur and Nandigram). What was distributed and fixed was usufruct rights for the tiller, who was generally a sharecropper, small tenant, or sometime even a landless laborer. All of these types were subsumed under the title “Barga-dar”. Now, the original owners of the land remained the former middle class farmers, called “Jote-dars”, who now had title to the land, but, had no right to change the tenancy or even the rent. In action, this is similar to the forced occupation tactics (Jobor-Dokhol) used in urban and semi-urban areas under the CPM.

    The deviousness of this structure was that the ‘usufruct’ rights were mostly not recognized by law or not duly processed. So, the “barga-dar’s” right to the land he/she tilled depended on the CPM. In short, as long as the party stayed in power, the “barga-dar” had control over his or her own land.

    Now, what happened in Singur and Nandigram has roots in this power structure. The CPIM reportedly approached a number of original owners to hand over land. These original owners had not had control over the land since 1977. They agreed to sell the land at rock bottom prices because as any rational actor would clearly comprehend: at least now the owners were getting paid something against the nothing they had earlier. Thus, the CPIM attempted to evict the “barga-dar” who had voted for all these years simply because the CPIM guaranteed their land usage rights. A very similar parallel can be noted in the downward spiral of CPIM support after “Operation Sunshine”, which attempted to evict the hawkers from large segments of Calcutta streets. A further parallel, which supports your theory, is that Mamata bagged the entire support of this group.
    This leads to a further question: why did Buddhadeb make these moves? I would argue that even before Buddhadeb these moves were being made, but only in urban areas (Operation Sunshine being a case in point). However, the reason is that despite Aseem Dasgupta (the state Finance Minister’s) budgetary gymnastics, West Bengal was headed toward bankruptcy. And, as you have noted above, bankruptcy and retrenchment would threaten the entire patronage network that had been slowly built from the 1970s. It would threaten the pay of the thousands of employees of State Government owned nationalized firms, large sectors of the transportation system, the informal networks of muscle men in the various clubs and the varieties of clients in the rural sector.

    Buddhadeb decided to undertake rapid re-industrialization. Some call him a Stalinist. He is alleged to have been a founding member of the Marquis de Sade club at Presidency College. However, I think that the larger goal was correct, but the implementation was wrong. Tragically, aside from the needless violence, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya drove a stake through the CPIM’s one card to victory: control over land.

    Finally, I think Mamata has adopted the CPIM stance on issues, but I do not think industrialization and development will stop. It will happen not because of Mamata, but despite her. The central reason is that the intellectual environment and the policy environment have completely changed in the rest of India. Remember, when CPIM talked about nationalization in 1977, the thought environment was dominated by socialism: banks had been nationalized by Mrs. Gandhi a few years earlier, other firms too had been nationalized, such as IISCO, Assam Cement, etc.; even Siddharta Shankar Ray had nationalized Great Eastern and the Tram Company.

    At present, people in West Bengal see what exists in Bombay and Delhi, even Chandigarh. They travel a lot more, perhaps ironically due the economic decline of the state. The middle class have largely abandoned government institutions: whether public schools and colleges or jobs in the public sector. And, ironically, the CPM’s success has worked against it. They did undertake some infrastructure projects at the village level: some electrification; paved roads; access to credit and markets. The result is that the Bengali farmer has access to television, knows more and, consequently, does not want his kid to grow up to be a farmer: thus defeating the fundamental assumption of peasant based communism. In essence, Bengal will move on in a capitalist route. Perhaps a bit slower, until Mamata realizes which side the bread is buttered on, but surer, since the violence is bound to subside after the Assembly elections.

    Anyway, great article: very detailed and thought provoking,

    Vasabjit

  52. “This peculiar aversion for success is what explains why Bengalis are Leftists at heart” — The lucky few who are not, like Great Bong, have that fortunate addiction to success which rescues them out of the swamps and to the Promised Land.

    But wait! Today Goldman Sachs investors (in the Promised Land) demanded that executive bonuses be reduced to pay more dividends to them. Clearly those morons don’t like others to succeed at their expense…

    GB is still good fun on those content-free reviews of third-class movies, but I will henceforth skip his political commentary. I mistook him for someone more mature and nuanced than he has proved to be.

  53. My feelings exactly ….when I first discovered RTDM I thought at long last we have a voice away from the organized media and the likes of NDTV ,CNN IBN, Time Now,Rediff ,BBC and CNN.However his political commentaries lack the maturity some of his movie commentaries have.Have to skip them henceforth as not worth any serious discussion.

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