Intellectuals occupy a unique position in Bengali society, or so they believe. These people live the life of the mind, or so they say. They read endless books, though all on the same subject. They watch countless movies from around the world, with or without subtitles, though all have the same basic plot. And ultimately, they express themselves, through writing or art or film, in really predictable ways. Even though they never actually take part in the life of ordinary people, they tell us what to think. As polling in Bengal draws near, a number of these artists and performers have taken to Youtube to tell us that they are not neutral.
Good; they don’t have to be. And while they show a rapid succession of headlines attacking the Central government and Chief Ministers of BJP ruled states, they do not name any political party. Very well, I can play along.
They warn us of some big pandemic-like threat coming towards Bengal. This threat will sweep away everything that Bengal is supposed to stand for. Which reminds me: what does Bengal stand for?
Let me ask a fundamental question. Why so much negativity, such anger, in how these intellectuals express themselves? Bengal has been a bastion of liberal, secular and progressive politics for 70 years. As the election unfolds, why not show off all the wonderful things that this liberal, secular and progressive politics has done for the state? Why not show off the “Bengal model” to the world?
Surprised? But why? Why does nobody ever speak of the Bengal model? Let us see: the state allegedly had the best economic planners, the most independent thinkers, the most vibrant space for dissent and the most social harmony. You say that all this is coming under threat now. Very well then, show us all that you have achieved in all these years. Show us the skyscrapers, the rivers of milk and honey and the long lines of people from other states flocking to Bengal for work.
You speak of a dangerous ideology coming into the state from outside. You talk of how this ideology has spread everywhere, like a pandemic. But, how come their ideology has spread and yours did not? You say you believe in education while the outsiders are murkho (illiterates). Then how come you get outwitted by the illiterates at every turn? Is it possible that your ideas do not produce tangible results?
Indeed, why the fear of the ideology of Gujarat spreading into Bengal? Why not go to Gujarat and fly the glory flag of Bengal? Make a Gujarati language video and promise to teach Gujarat how to become prosperous like Bengal. Who is stopping you?
This is what is called a sanity check. It is not found in your philosophy books nor in clouds of intellectual cigarette smoke. As a general rule, if you are paranoid about outside ideas and outside people, you must not be very successful yourself. Do you know how many Bengalis are forced to work in low wage, low skilled jobs in Bangalore? And yet, when a young leader from Bangalore visited Kolkata to take on your Chief Minister, he was met with paranoid name-calling and the tag of bohiragoto (outsider). This is an admission of your failure to deliver for the people of Bengal. And the fact that you take pride in this makes you a loser.
You have forgotten who is the incumbent in this election in Bengal. Or you would rather not discuss it, because you cannot bring yourself to admit the truth. But, whether you like it or not, this election in Bengal is about asking you questions. Once upon a time, Bengal used to lead India. What have you done with India’s industrial and intellectual powerhouse? You will have to answer these questions rather than pointing fingers at outsiders and calling them names.
And what has become even of Bengal’s famed cultural sphere? One hundred years after Tagore, are you not stuck rehashing his plots and characters? The most ‘original’ thing you have done since is replace his lyrics with vulgar street abuses and go around on Basanta Utsav showing them off on your body. Yes, the photos from students at Rabindra Bharati University went viral. It’s a free country. Do whatever. But don’t be surprised if people stop taking you seriously. And then you have to hide behind made-up regional pride.
Once upon a time, Bengal was a land without fear. The British used to fear the rise of Bengal, which is why they had to partition it. Swami Vivekananda took his ideas all the way to Chicago and shared them. Today you intellectuals are teaching Bengal to fear the Bihari Hindu next door because apparently Durga is ours and Ram is theirs. Imagine what you have become.
Do you want to see the cultural influence of Bengal? Every year, tourists flock to Kanyakumari to see the spot upon which Swami Vivekananda mediated. Everyone in India wants to claim the legacy of Swami Vivekananda, including the RSS students organization, the ABVP. India’s national anthem was written in Bengali. The popular Vande Mataram? Also Bengali. If Bengal could do all this when India was not even an independent country, imagine what it could have done since independence. Who is to blame here? The outsiders?
In 2012, when Narendra Modi set out to win his third election in Gujarat, he began a month-long Vivekananda Yuva yatra across the state. In 2021, Mamata Banerjee wants to win her third election in Bengal for which the official handle of the TMC tweeted out: “Bengal rejects Gujarati manifesto.” Feeling small yet? Tell me again how you are educated and everyone else is murkho (illiterate).
Since 2012, Modi has taken his Gujarat model all around the country. What have you done since? Hidden in your own mohalla grumbling about outsiders? And now that the Gujarat model has come to your neighbourhood, all you can do is call them names and look for ‘traitors’ on the inside. The other day, a Bengali theater actor announced that he is joining BJP. His liberal director fired him on the spot. Big win for your ideology, I must say.
If your liberal, secular and progressive values had done any good, you would have something to show for it. You would have the Bengal model to show the world. You don’t have any. Instead, you just have your small-minded paranoia and name-calling. But paranoia is not the new strength. Poverty is not new wealth. Being predictable is not the new creativity. These are old traits of every loser in history.