Sandipan Deb

Sandipan Deb is an independent journalist and writer. He has been Editor of The Financial Express, Managing Editor of Outlook, and Founder-Editor of Outlook Money, Open and Swarajya magazines. He is the author of The IITians: How an Indian Institution and Its Alumni Are Reshaping the World; Fallen Angel: The Making and Unmaking of Rajat Gupta and The Last War, a novel re-imagining the Mahabharata in the modern Mumbai underworld; and editor of Momentous Times, a volume to commemorate 175 years of The Times of India. He is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and IIM Calcutta.

I have spent most of my life—including the last 30 years—outside Bengal. I am a probashiBangali, but my Bengali-ness defines my identity, to me and to others. In fact I can be counted among the hundreds of thousands of Bengalis who are expatriates quite simply because there are no jobs for us in Bengal—have not been for several decades now. We want to return, but are not able to.

It is always a revelation when on every annual trip to Kolkata, I tell my few friends who still live there that I want to come back and settle down, and they, almost to a man, retort that it’s very easy for me to say so while visiting for a week—it’s quite another thing to live here the year round. These responses leave me dismayed. What about our children, I keep wondering—born and brought up in faraway cities, and very often, countries,lost to Bengal, never knowing their roots, oblivious of the vibrant and unique culture of their ancestors, unaware of their precious inheritance.

When I was discussing this with a Kolkata-based schoolteacher friend, he said: “The funny thing is that the parents of most of the children I teach have been invariably voting for the ruling parties in the state, yet they want their kids to get out of West Bengal for higher studies the moment they are out of school. I question them about this contradiction, and haven’t ever received a convincing reply.”

Could more than half a century of misrule have sapped the strength of a vibrant race? Yes, I do believe that going beyond the economic numbers (many of which seem to be positive at a cursory glance), the people of Bengalmay have been somewhat drained of our vitality. If this is an unpopular view, so be it, and I would be extremely happy to be proved wrong. But I can’t help thinking that what Bengal may need today is a regeneration of its spirit and its core values.

For decades now, political parties in power in the state have made hay while stirring a malignant psychological brew—a dangerous superiority complex mixed with an inherent urge to rebel mixed with (and this was very successfully distilled and marketed by politicians) a strong sense of being at the receiving end of targeted injustice. The Communists, who ruled for 34 years, kept the populace on a constant diet of anti-Delhi rage, while ruining the economy and work culture. It paid off handsomely to keep the people poor and angry about mostly-imagined slights and sabotage. And it is still inexplicable how national media has turned a bind idea to the fact that vicious repression and extortionary corruption have been such an integral part of West Bengal politics.

In 2011, West Bengal got rid of the Communists, voting overwhelming for Mamata Banerjee and paribartan. How badly we were deceived! The extortionary system has only grown stronger, the violence has increased, the brew has been made more bitter. The law and order machinery has perhaps never been so compromised, and the local media, which is, in the absence of industry, fatally dependent on government advertising, so supine. In a way, Mamata Banerjee seems to have aimed to cut off West Bengal from the national mainstream. One needs only to think of her relentless carping about central governments and recent attacks on “outsiders”. Whatever her logic, her words and actions have certainly hurt Bengal’s prospects, hopes and aspirations, and cruelly limited whatever potential the Communists failed to cripple.

Yet, one does not give up hope, for if one does so, there is nothing left. We need a healing process to begin, and there is no reason, given Bengal’s natural and intellectual resources, that the state and its people cannot stand tall again. Of course, it will not be easy, and it will take many years. For, what Bengal is today is the outcome of 50 years of irresponsible, self-serving and frog-in-the-well political leadership.It is high time Bengal rose again. High time we discard the useless and unworthy past and move decisively forward.

It is time, as Tagore dreamt, that the soil of Bengal, the water of Bengal, the air of Bengal, the produce of Bengal, be blessed, be blessed, be blessed once more.
Share on social media