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Bengal model of development

Wednesday, 21 May 2014 - 6:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

If Modi's victory has been aided by exuberant media approbation, Mamata Banerjee's victory in Bengal was not damaged by intense media deprecation. If the media elevated Modi in the esteem of his voters through excessive laud — it also failed to steer Bengal's voters away from Didi. The BJP's latest electoral inroads in Bengal were among the Left Front loyalists and not supporters of Didi or the Congress party. The latter remained seemingly impervious to television beams and sound bites. The 'Bongs', it would seem, are still unscathed by the machinations of the media. Investors' designs to instigate media opinion against Didi, have met with utter failure.

Bengal, it may be argued, is in the midst of experiencing social and economic change. Leveraging their newfound money power, Bengalis have started to dislodge the Marwaris and the Gujaratis from the economic spaces they have occupied till now. Sectors like hospitals and real estate, money exchange and money lending, cold storages and transport are increasingly falling into the hands of the Bengalis. The latter have begun to gain an upper hand in the petty trades of taxis and cartage and couriers as well — till now considered to be bastions of Bihari migrants. The ascendancy of the moneyed Bengali is shoring up a culture industry where Tagore, Sarat Chandra, Bankim Chandra and especially Prabhat Mukhopadhyay are resuscitated and re-established. Food joints serving classical Bengali cuisine are now fodder for television reality shows. In the process of gentrification, those acquiring economic heft, are making forays into the world of culture hoping to gain acceptability in bhadralok Bengali society.

The Trinamool Congress assures political power to such parvenus. While some among the entrenched gentry do resist Didi's popularity, those proud of the emergence of the new subaltern forces of Bengal tend to perceive in their ascendancy a resurgence of the state's old glory.

Those familiar with the history of Bengal are well aware of the state's strange self-destructive culture. The Hindus were furious when sections of Muslim agriculturists started emerging in the textile and jute businesses. Not to forget that Syama Prasad Mookerjee's ideology of a pan Indian Hindu nation aiming at aligning Hindu Bengal into a larger India was born in 15th century Bengal. Mookerjee is the founder of the Jan Sangh — or the father of the BJP of the contemporary times. It was his belief that a partitioned Bengal was better than a united Bengal. And thus through one of humanity's worst riots, he fractured and dismembered what was India's most exciting cultural swathe and seat of economic power. According to Mookerjee, it was better to have no Bengal rather than accommodate the chhotolok (lower class people) who were now defiantly competing for social space with the bhadralok. The Left — despite the veneer of socialism — were also elitist who wished to control people and not free them from control.

This is the reason that Mamata, unlike Modi, never projected herself as the state and the party. Though for all practical purposes, she stands in for both these entities. In her first coming Mamata targeted, not the Left's political ideology but the entrenchment of Left cadres in every conceivable position of power. Under the Left hegemony, you had to be a cadre of the party to lead a decent life. Without that political 'qualification', one could not even move one's produce from the farm to the market! Even finding a decent job was impossible. Bengalis left the state in droves and did well in the job market in other states. The traditional migratory tendencies of Bengalis intensified during the protracted Left Front regime.

On the flip side, the unbroken rule of 34 years of the Left Front, brought significant benefits. One among these — the perfect security of agriculture in Bengal's villages. And while memories of the Partition remained, and those of the Afghan rule in the middle centuries lingered, memories of the Great Famine were completely obliterated. Corruption and extortion were regularised and moderated and this led to a proliferation of village level services like real estate, hiring and renting of equipment and small scale manufacturing.

The Left was voted out of power not because of poverty but for prosperity that motivated people to desire and demand more. It was at this point of time that the Left made friends with its nemesis — the industry — by inviting the Tatas and wooing the Salims. By the time the Nano episode and the Singur fiasco exploded, the character of the Bengalis, albeit due to the benefits of the Left Rule, had undergone a metamorphosis.

There was now substantial Bengali capital in the hands of farmers, the self-employed and above all the real estate developer community. Alongside, there grew a substantial community of non-resident Bengalis living elsewhere in India, and across the world. A community that started investing heavily in Bengal, thanks to its success in trading with Bangladesh.

Bengal started to emerge again as an economic power. Media has underplayed the fact that at the time of Independence, Bengal was India's most industrialised state. While constantly discrediting the port of Haldia for not being able to carry draught, media has never reported that the entire supply of imported coal into eastern India takes place through Paradip. Despite media reportage, Bengal was growing. And as always, Didi attracted envy from the rest of India.

Modi's ire was the worst; he recently played upon the emotive Bangladeshi issue, inciting innate Hindu hatred of the Muslim. To some, he appears to be against Bengal and Bengalis, identifying them as his most immediate competitors. Modi is silent on some major diversions of international investment from Gujarat to Bengal; Norway's oil funds under EFTA have come into Bengal's video gaming and music industry (hence the BJP candidates — Babul Supriyo and Bappi Lahiri). Like a true Bengali, Mamata, is superstitious in publicising achievements. Similarly, in the spirit of a true Gujarati — Modi is prone to exaggerations. Ask a Gujarati how he is: he will reply "maja ma" (good/delightful). While a Bengali to the same question would dolefully reply: " ei… chole jaachhe." (nothing much, just getting on).

The writer is an independent media scholar

Update: In the earlier version, Port of Haldia was incorrectly referred to as Paradip

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