Swaraj India West Bengal President Sanjeeb Mukherjee’s article: Engaging with the Long and Deep Crisis of West Bengal

Swaraj India West Bengal President Sanjeeb Mukherjee’s article: Engaging with the Long and Deep Crisis of West Bengal

Engaging with the Long and Deep Crisis of West Bengal

West Bengal has lost its predominance in almost all fields – from the economy to culture – and yet there is very little introspection on what went wrong and how to get out of this mess. It’s become a land of lost opportunities caught up in a continuous cycle of violence and counter violence. The basic source of our strength lay in a public spirited middle class pursuing a life of the mind which unfolded itself around the twin nationalist ideals of swadeshi and swaraj. It was time of public institution building and the flowering of a tolerant democratic culture of debate and dissent. It of course, had its class limits for having failed to include the masses in this project in any significant way.

The 1940s was the beginning of the long and deep crisis, compounded by a series of newer ones since the mid 1960s which, seems to have engulfed us completely. Following upon a recession, the Bengal famine, massive communal riots, partition and a huge influx of refugees took away the joy of independence in 1947 and left a deep and festering scar on this state. However, new hopes were raised in this cauldron of human suffering by two opposing forces. On the one hand, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bidhan Roy’s project of building a new India and, on the other hand, the communist party’s critical utopian interventions in the form of new ideas, dreams and struggles helped us to engage with the crisis and the mood of gloom.

By the middle of the 1960s the left movement had gathered both, considerable popular support as well as a space in the minds and hearts of the middle classes, to intellectually challenge and overthrow the dominance of the Congress. The radical hopes raised by the left soon was quashed by a series of internal splits and bitter and violent partisan conflicts within the left. Instead of building on the nationalist ideals of swadeshi and swaraj the left frontally and often physically attacked their icons and institutions causing an irreparable loss. The democratic culture of debate and dissent was rapidly replaced by the politics of violence and the final nail was firmly put in place by the regime of SS Ray from 1972 till 1977. Instead of offering an alternative the left, including the middle classes, became a victim of the violence and could never recover from this decisive defeat.

Though this defeated left came back to power and ruled continuously for 34 years it had lost its dreams and struggling spirit but stuck to the blinding ideology of the communist party as a result of which it could not come up with innovative ideas to make best use of its uninterrupted rule. According to communist orthodoxy, a left regime in a parliamentary system can only provide some relief to the people smarting under economic hardship and can provide support to the militant struggles of the masses. After the defeat of 1972, the left had abandoned the path of struggle and was thus left with a single alternative – provide relief to the peasants, workers and the middle classes. Relief is purely a temporary tactic to tide over a disaster; it is no way to address the deep rooted crisis of Bengal. Of course, the left had an answer – the communist revolution was the only way to engage with the crisis. Revolution was in no way round the corner and soon they realised that even to provide some relief they would need investments from capitalists, a road which ultimately took them to abjectly surrender to capital and face their end in the struggles in Singur and Nandigram. The crisis created by the left since the mid-1960s added to the woes of Bengal. Great public institutions, like universities and colleges, the democratic culture of Bengal and its intellectually oriented middle class were all destroyed by the communist juggernaut.

The terms of Bengal politics fundamentally changed from intellectual critiques and popular movements to one of demagoguery, affect and an authoritarian populism represented by the current regime. What is even more dangerous is that its main challenger is a party committed to a deeply communal agenda pushing this state to the communal divide, hatred and violence of the 1940s. None of them have even a bare understanding of the crisis of this state, leave alone any inkling of a way out. Rather, this politics seems to engulf us into another civil war like situation. This is the contemporary crisis and the most dangerous one staring us in the face.

We do not have any clear cut way to engage with this long and deep crisis, but there is one certainty; we can never emerge out of this situation by not taking responsibility and introspecting. The easiest thing which we habitually do is blame somebody or some force for all our ills. It could be imperialism, capitalism, the central government and now the latest evil responsible for all our ills are the minority community who are bent on engulfing the tolerant Hindus and creating conditions for a further partition and the Islamisization of the state.

Deep rooted fears, anxieties and despair create a belief in being a victim of evil forces who have to be defeated and exterminated to deliver us from this hell hole. If we have to engage with this crisis in a civilised, democratic and ethical manner we need to introspect, imagine and argue ways of saving us. This is primarily an intellectual and political project and the middle classes, intellectuals and students have to rise to the occasion, come together, debate, think and reach out to all sections of society.

By Photo by Goutam Roy for Al Jazeera English – Sudip Bandoyopadhyay’s campaign

State President of Swaraj India, West Bengal
Prof. Sanjeeb Mukherjee taught political science at University of Calcutta. He studied politics in Presidency College and a received a PhD in Philosophy from Jadavpur University.

The author’s views are personal.