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The new divide

The new divide

Author: Saugar Sengupta
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: May 23, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/177913/The-new-divide.html

Mamata Banerjee is now the rallying point for Bengal's allegedly pro-change intellectuals. Is it delayed conscience kick ? Or rats deserting the sinking ship?

The reason why Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee kept the chartered aircraft sent by Congress president Sonia Gandhi waiting in Kolkata airport for six hours on Tuesday was that she had an important date. Bengal's sushil samaj aka vidwatjan aka parivartan panthi and, oh-yes, buddhijeebi folk (let's repeat that twice) wanted to have dinner with her.

To paraphrase Neil Armstrong), it was a huge step by the Bengali buddhijeebi.

The German Nobel Prize winning writer, Gunter Grass, who spent a whole year (1987-88) in Communist Kolkata, returned home to describe the 'city of joy' (the title of Dominique Lapierre's 1987 book which somehow stuck) as nothing more than a 'pile of s*#t'. By extension, the Bengali buddijeebi was the organism which thrived on that.

He looked the other way when Communist police massacred hundreds in Marich Jhapi island on the Sunderbans between February and May 1979. There was no 24x7 news coverage back then, yet these guys knew but colluded in a conspiracy of silence. They saw CPI(M) goons beat to death seventeen Ananda Marg monks and nuns on Bejon Setu in the heart of south Kolkata in April 1982. And they agreed with Jyoti Basu that the Anand Marg was a gang of child lifters who deserved being lynched.

They were silent onlookers to the destruction of Bengal's cherished institutions. A generation earlier, the Bengali intellectual was the protestor, the trail blazer. After 1977, he groveled for scraps from the Communist table. Like Romain Rolland, Maxim Gorky and Jean Paul Rousseau with Stalin, he covered up for the crimes of Communism as Bengal sank to lower and lower depths in every field of human endeavour.

But something happened on March 14, 2007. Some people found their conscience back. The Nandigram genocide was not the most terrible seen in Bengal. Some 20,000 people had already been massacred since 1977. Yet, a combination of factors ensured the end of an era of intellectual servitude. Whether the prospect of instant fame had anything to do with it is another debate altogether. But it is no coincidence that the regeneration of their conscience and the national chatterati's disillusionment with Prakash Karat's day-in-day-out obstructionism happened in tandem. It is also a fact that Aparna Sen & C. regained their voices only after the impetus came from Delhi. If the truth is told, it must be admitted that it was The Pioneer's serial exposes between 2004 and 2006 on the true face of Communist rule which sent out the original distress call from Bengal. After that, it became impossible for the old Nehruvian Left to continue with its 'neutrality' on Bengal.

When an admirer went up to Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay and remarked how lucid and bucolic was his style in contrast to Rabindranath Tagore's complex articulation techniques, Sarat Chandra shyly remarked: "Rabindranath Tagore writes for us and we write for you".

That was a different Bengal. Today, after three decades of Stalinism, an intellectual is either a Buddhijeebi or a Buddhajeebi. If you are with Ma Mati Manush (i.e. Mamata Banerjee) you are the former. If you support "Shilpayan" ( Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's war cry) you are a Buddhajeebi.If you are pro-CPI(M) you are with "Us". If you are with Trinamool you are with "Them". Either way, your sense of right and wrong is under the control of a political movement. The "Us" brigade says Nandigram was a Maoist conspiracy, the real genocide happened in neighbouring Khejuri where the boot was in the other foot.

Then, shortly before the 2009 Lok Sabha election, it degenerated into a no--holds-barred slanging match. Kolkatans woke up one morning to find giant hoardings with the message Parivartan -- "Change". Faces from TV serials, Tollywood and Desh magazine stared at them. The most recognizable ones among them were Gyanpith Award winner Mahasweta Devi, film director Aparna Sen, drama personality Saoli Mitra, painter Suvaprasanna, bureaucrat-turned-intellectual Debabrata Bandopadhyay, TV actor Kaushik Sen, playwright Bratya Basu and civil rights leader Sunanda Sanyal. Dancer Mamata Shankar also featured, but she withdrew saying she objected -- not to Parivartan but to her picture being used without permission.

The Buddhajeebi fought back, albeit weakly. Gone are the days when friendly articles in Economic & Political Weekly and approving noises by a certain Nobel Prize winner could be counted upon to silence critics. The internet is practically exploding with evidence of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's malgovernance. What complicated matters was the grand announcement by Marxist minister Ashok Bhattacharjee that the danseusse and Mahashweta Devi had once thrived on Communist largesse. He gave proof that government land had been allotted to them for setting up institutions. By that singular blunder, the Communists gave the game away that unless you are one of 'Us', you can forget about getting benefits from the government. A generation of Bengalis have accepted this as a fact of life. The inability to make a distinction between the party and the state is so deeply ingrained in the Bengali psyche that the minister managed to get away with his vainglory. This goes against the grain of the Indian State, where patronage of good causes are expected to be done without consideration to a person's party loyalty. If Mamata Shankar and Mahashweta Devi had got government lands at below-market rates, then it was their due. By expecting them to fall in line, the Communist regime revealed the perverted core of their governance. It may be argued that all governments are guilty of this. But who has ever heard of a government owning up to harbouring such a policy? Besides, Mamata Banerjee openly said on camera that after the poster appeared, she stopped getting government offers to stage her group's performances.

Admittedly, no creative performer can hope to survive in Bengal without state patronage. Reason: the market for their products is restricted to only the Kolkata agglomerate. Nothing unique about this. Even iconic film maker Satyajit Ray depended on government support for his works. In 1977, under a 34-year-old information minister called Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the rules of the game changed. Fall in line or forget art.

To be sure, some of today's honourable gentlemen had indeed backed the government a bit too zealously in the past. As an IAS officer serving under Benoy Choudhury, Debabrata Bandopadhyay was the poster boy of the regime for implementing 'Operation Barga'. And what an effective spokesman he was. Finally, after collecting all his retirement dues and settling into a bungalow built on prime government-provided land in Salt Lake, Bandopadhyay woke up one morning to discover some startling facts about 'land reforms'. It was all a hoax. Alas, it was too late. The damage had been done.

The Trinamool's stunning victory in the Lok Sabha election is more than a political disaster for the Communist regime. It has cracked wide open Bengal's Leftist movement. All the old shibboleths are shattered. And the et tu Brute stab - the flight of the intellectual to the other side.

- The writer is Kolkata correspondent of The Pioneer

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