Here’s A Prescription For Bengal’s Socio-Economic Rejuvenation: Junk Left-Induced Mindsets To Celebrate Wealth And Wealth-Creators
The leftist propaganda machine was successful in creating the stereotypes of the evil and rich industrialist or trader or banker, and an unemployed but virtuous hero.
Bengal’s redemption lies in decisive repudiation of this legacy.
A recent exhibition of photographs — old and new — to ‘celebrate’ Kolkata and its ethos provided a deep insight into exactly what is wrong with the city, the state, and its people.
Apart from some spectacular and typical photos of Kolkata’s iconic structures like the Victoria Memorial and the Howrah Bridge (Rabindra Setu) that are de rigueur at all such exhibitions depicting the city, most of the rest were very stark ones.
The stark photos were of ramshackle tramcars, smoke-belching yellow ‘ambassador’ taxis, derelict public buses, emaciated rickshaw-pullers, crumbling buildings overgrown with vegetation, shabby roadside tea and food stalls, poverty-stricken pavement dwellers, the ubiquitous street demonstration that define Kolkata et al.
It is this definition of the city, and the pride that Kolkatans take in this dismal definition, that underpins the malaise that afflicts the state.
The underlying philosophy of this definition is the celebration of poverty that the communists so powerfully injected into the body politic of Bengal. That is why the defining images of Kolkata are the dull and the decrepit.
No other city in the world, perhaps, takes such pride in its decrepitude than Kolkata and its residents. No other state celebrates poverty like Bengal does. And no other people have internalised the state of being poor so intensely as the people of Bengal.
The bogus and self-defeatist ‘simple living, high thinking’ philosophy that the communists, who so venally permeated the intellectual ecosystem of Bengal and still hold it hostage, have injected into the collective psyche of the people of Bengal is what holds the state back from rejuvenating itself.
The communists, despite their proclamations to the contrary, have a vested interest in keeping the masses poor and just at the subsistence level. It is far easier to ‘control’ the poor and make them do the (communist) party’s bidding than the middle classes or the well-off.
That’s because the poor are vulnerable and the communists, during their inglorious 34-year rule of Bengal, developed a vice-like grip over them by handing out small crumbs like (unofficial) permissions to set up roadside stalls, operate rickshaws and run petty businesses.
At the same time, the communists also instilled a deep aversion to wealth and the wealthy in the collective psyche of Bengal’s masses. The wealthy came to be looked upon as crooked and immoral people who had become rich by exploiting the masses and cheating them.
This deep-rooted aversion to wealth and the wealthy found eloquent expression in prose, poetry, drama, paintings, cinema and other art forms in Bengal since the 1960s when communism started developing deep roots in the state.
In many movies, including those made by the most prominent doyens of Bengali film industry, the villain would thus be the rich industrialist or trader or banker, while the hero would be an unemployed (and unemployable) drifter.
Literature and films vilified wealth and the wealthy and portrayed goodness and virtue in poverty. The underdog as the hero was an abiding theme in all art forms.
But the underdog in Bengali literature and films never strove to become wealthy; he remained poor but virtuous. Poverty and virtuosity thus became synonymous in Bengal.
Stereotyping the rich as crooked and evil, the middle-classes as decadent and useless bourgeois and the poor as noble was part of the toxic communist script that the leftists who infiltrated the world of arts successfully pushed.
The leftist propaganda machine was successful in creating these stereotypes that survive in Bengal even today. Mamata Banerjee, who is often more left than the leftists themselves, has made matters only worse.
Banerjee’s Singur and Nandigram agitations were a good example of this: a battle of the poor (i.e. the small farmers) against the rich (the Tatas in Singur and Indonesia’s Salim Group in Nandigram) with the poor emerging victorious.
That the poor continue to remain poor matters little, just as it was inconsequential to the communist rulers of Bengal who preceded her.
If the poor start striving for wealth and eventually improve their financial lot, they will no longer be dependent on the Trinamool politicians for the occasional doles. That will pose a grave threat to Mamata Banerjee and her party.
It is in this political context that the glorification of poverty, as exemplified by Kolkata’s dilapidated structures, its creaky public transport, its emaciated pavement dwellers, its cheap roadside eateries and its eternal protest marches and agitations, have to been seen and understood.
The entire purpose of this glorification (of poverty and the poor), and the concomitant vilification (of wealth and the wealthy) has been the perpetuation of a toxic political ideology that has kept Bengal wallowing in a morass of privation and ignorance.
For Bengal to emerge from this dismal quagmire, the people of the state have to junk the communist-induced ‘poverty is glorious and virtuous’ mindset.
The people of Bengal have to realise that true glory lies in creating wealth. Because wealth and affluence will bring about social, educational and cultural advancement that the state so badly requires.
A prominent member of the Birla family, one of India’s most prominent business families, which has its roots in Kolkata once remarked that it baffles him how Bengalis could worship Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth) and still be so anti-rich.
That may be because Bengalis have been worshipping Goddess Lakshmi very perfunctorily. It is time Bengalis did so with complete devotion.
Bengal’s redemption lies in decisive repudiation of its left legacy. The answer to Bengal’s socio-economic rejuvenation lies in worshipping Goddess Lakshmi with complete devotion and celebrating wealth and wealth-creators.
An exhibition of photos to celebrate Kolkata should, thus, depict the restored mansions of the city and not the crumbling structures where anorexic humans cohabit with various species of birds, rodents, insects and plants.
Bengal has to break out of the grey and atrophied communist mould that it has crawled into and confined itself in for so long. It has nothing to lose but the chains that have kept it shackled to penury and socio-cultural backwardness for so long.
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