As a child born and grown up on the soil and dust of West Bengal, the political churnings and cacophonies were not something we were detoxed with. Be it the inquisitiveness of the masses or the overarching nature of politics in day to day life these political discourses at the end of the day makes for a better-informed citizen if not politically conscious ones. So the writings on the wall, election rumblings, political juggernauts always used to be the caller tunes of even the apolitical ones. Discussions in Bengal without political deserts would always be far way imagination. And so a keen observance of the states political history post-independence is bound to reveal that even with all its flaws of political violence, the politics of the Bengali dining table or their cup of tea was invariably always about the land, farmers, electricity, state vs centre victimhood and employment and never about the issues of religion or ethnicity. In the mid-90s when the entire country had been ripped apart with the issue of identity politics be it religion, caste or ethnicity here was one state which still fought on a commoners day to day life issues be it unemployment or the industry. Whatever may the achievements or failures of successive governments in the state and how calibrated may be the debates on the waning curve of development in the state, the morning cup of coffee would always remain untinged by the colours of identity politics. There could be discussions jostling around us soviet cold war or the red army revolution in China but never had it delved into the politics of religious polarization or the politics of insider vs outsider. This can be evident from the fact that even when the whole country was engulfed in the holy zealous fire of communal animosity post-Babri demolition Bengal remained a state untouched with or when the shiv sena would take on their north Indian or south Indian friends out of their state boundaries the very such act was regarded as goonda giri in the Bengal cafeterias Even the staunchest supporters of thackreys were ashamed to support such acts of ethnocentrist identity politics and xenophobic attitude in the open in the Bengal landscape. And it is this sense of liberal values away from the politics of identity which any Bengali would like to carry on their sleeves. It was never about those towering skyscrapers of em bypass or the high-end flyovers what made any Bengali outside Bengal proud but was always about the rich cultural values and the liberal ethos the state stood for. It may be our celebration of Durga puja as Sharad Utsav or the near absence of caste in the popular discourse and consciousness except leaving the matrimonial ads or our behaviour towards people from other states. Colleges and universities testify to this fact of bonhomie between the natives and their all India peers, even at a time when news of racist attacks make daily headlines taking place in states /city more developed than Bengal. It is not uncommon to even notice an ordinary Bengali go a step overboard to greet a non-bengali Hindi speaker with his broken Bengali Hindi mixture only to make his guest comfortable. This is not at all to portray a very rosy picture of the state devoid of any religious, caste and ethnic fault lines. Frictions used to be there but all such frictions and schisms were always kept in check by the civil, administrative and political goodwill. Today as the assembly elections of 2021 blinks near our eyes and whoever may be the winner of this race, even a cursory look at the Bengal elections campaigning would reveal Hindu vs Muslims, Begum and Mollahs, insider vs outsider as the centre stage issues. Truly, these were the issues which didn’t even make a fuss in the post-independent history of Bengal but sadly today these all are the graffitis on the wall. So in this battle for Bengal whoever may win the loser will always be Bengal and it’s values sacrificed at the altar of political vultures and we seem to take the stand of the lone spectator.
- Candid with Covid
- Conversation- makers and breakers