Mamata Banerjee wants to rekindle Bengal's glorious past undeterred by the state's troublesome present

Undeterred by the turmoil in Darjeeling, where the army was called out late last week to quell violence in the wake of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s opposition to “imposition of Bengali on hills people,” West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee continues to be busy pursuing her latest passion: Rekindling the flames of Bengali pride.

She has herself designed an exclusive 'state logo’ which highlights the 'Biswa Bangla' theme with Ashoka pillars on it. And after sending the logo to New Delhi for the Centre’s approval, the chief minister has set about writing a short poem that would eventually become the 'state song'.

File image of Mamata Banerjee. Reuters

File image of Mamata Banerjee. Reuters

Read what The Indian Express, which covered this development in detail from different angles, wrote on 30 May: “The move comes at a time when the Trinamool Congress is focusing on countering the BJP’s push into the state, with the chief minister recently alleging that the BJP was importing an alien culture into Bengal.”

Quoting sources close to the chief minister, the newspaper further wrote: “The central theme of the song will be that Bengal has a unique identity. This identity is tied deeply to its values of secularism. The people of Bengal have never been divisive. Kolkata was the first cosmopolitan city and the city, like the state, always welcomed differences. That will be the underlying theme of the song.”

“This theme was also meant to be a political message for the BJP-led Centre and their aggressive promotion of Hindi and Hindutva in Bengal. Over the past few years, the BJP has been attempting to curb the rights of Bengal — starting from financial deprivation to cultural corrosion.”

No doubt, Mamata appears to be drawing inspiration from what Gopal Krishna Gokhale had said in praise of Bengal about a 100 years ago: “What Bengal thinks today, India thinks tomorrow.” It’s significant that apart from being one of the tallest leaders of the freedom movement, Gokhale happened to be a mentor to both Mahatma Gandhi and Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the good, old days when the composite Indian society hadn’t been poisoned by the communal bug.

And Didi, as she is popularly known as, is not a fool. She knows what she is doing. For, her politics revolves around three basic themes – secularism, federalism and inclusiveness. Little wonder then that she is composing the proposed state song herself. The song shall have just three verses. And all the verses shall capture the essence of Bengal. Those who would lend their voice to the song under the guidance of a renowned music director are being shortlisted.

But there is a jarring note in all this: Gokhale’s Bengal and Mamata’s West Bengal are two different things. Much water has flown down the Hooghly in the past 100 years.

Referring to Gokhale’s observation, Mekhala Banerjee, writes in a paper submitted to the University of Chicago: “This was an accurate description of Bengalis a century ago. In science, in literature, in patriotism, in every sphere of life, Bengal was at the forefront. Bengali literature has been translated into many different languages all over the world. The revolutionary fire that had spread across India, the fire that would eventually force the British to leave India, had originated in Bengal.”

Mekhala writes further: “Sons of Bengal, such as Netaji Subhas Bose, Rishi Aurobindo, Deshbandhu Chittaranjan, Rashbehari Bose, Masterda Surja Sen and many others of that age were the masterminds of the revolutionary movement. Kazi Nazrul's revolutionary songs, Bankim Chandra's anthem, Bande Ma Taram, and Tagore's Jana Gana Mana all became songs not only of Bengal, but of all India.”

In her research paper, the writer also talks about the pious exploits of Swami Vivekananda, who had spread the glory of Hinduism in the heartland of Christianity.

But all this is history. Mamata’s West Bengal is no longer the intellectual/cultural/political paradise that it used to be in Gokhale’s time. It’s, however, a different thing if politicians cutting across party lines love to talk about the glorious past – and not the troublesome present. The RSS does it day in and day out. The Congressmen do it all the time. How can you find fault if Mamata does it for a change?

Be that as it may, what remains to be seen is whether Mamata’s proposed state song is able to reignite the flames of Bengali pride. If it does, it’ll be trying times ahead for Amit Shah’s BJP.

But let’s keep our fingers crossed till the song sees the light of the day.

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 19:46 PM

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