by Kaushik Sanyal
Media highlights of political violence in Bengal being manifested in multiple ways has brought in hordes of political and social commentators lamenting the decline of value based politics in the state. In the current environment, the image of ‘genteel Bengali bhadrolok’ has receded into the background to be replaced by lumpen elements who commit atrocities on women, shoot and kill policemen during college elections, fight over rights to supply building materials and in general cause harassment to ordinary public.
The commentators have trotted multiple reasons starting from stranglehold of the cadres during the Communist regime to the inability of the present day ruling party to control its party workers etc. However, there is no other truer reason to escalating violence in Bengal politics than the absolute decimation of its economy and the abysmally low percentage of people engaged in the organised sector. A society with a large number of its workforce gainfully employed would not have time or need to engage in these atrocities.
A good friend of mine who as the leader of the ultra-left faction of the Presidency College (a premier college and now an autonomous university in Calcutta) was the head of the College student union and is now settled in the US. One day while he was effusively discussing the possibility of converting his research in the environmental area into multi-million dollar commercial opportunity, I questioned him on the dichotomy of his political beliefs during his college days to his current metamorphosis. He said that while he still believed in ‘sharing the pie’ as equitably as possible, what was not clear to him then is the importance to ‘increase the size of the pie.’ His answer pithy as it might be is the single most need for Bengal over everything else to lift itself out of the morass it is in.
‘Freedom’ is the most important attribute human beings crave. Once ‘free’ they look to elect governments who are able to provide them economic, physical and social security in no particular order. However current events have clearly shown that physical or social security on a long-term basis is untenable without sound economic security (case in point USSR, North Korea, Greece, etc).
Unfortunately for Bengal, starting from the sixties the focus of governments had been on social security without adequate emphasis to build upon the economic security of the state and its people. As the growth of the economic pie stagnated vis-à-vis growth of the population and its aspirations, political parties indulged in selective hand-outs and political patronages to keep things in check. And now with even that pie shrinking it has resulted in an explosion of political violence.
Ashis Nandy (famous sociologist) says that the current democratically elected leader of the Bengal government is an illegitimate child of the Communist form of political leadership that the state had for so long. It would not be wrong to say that his description of the current chief minister can be extended to all the important political leaders of the state resulting in lack of any independent political thinking. It is, thus, important for the people of Bengal to look within themselves and ‘be the change it wants to be.’ Democracy allows its citizens multiple forums to raise its voice in absence of viable leadership, and Bengal certainly does not lack them.
People in the state need to channelize these forums to make the political leadership understand and work to increase the economic security and well-being of the state. In absence of that, political leaders will continue to win their elections through political hand-outs and patronages, while the state of Bengal will continue to lose out.