Mamata Banerjee Is Wrong - Bengal Is No Longer India’s ‘Cultural Capital’

Mamata Banerjee Is Wrong - Bengal Is No Longer India’s ‘Cultural Capital’

by Jaideep Mazumdar - Wednesday, December 30, 2020 04:04 PM IST
Mamata Banerjee Is Wrong - Bengal Is No Longer India’s ‘Cultural Capital’Mamata Banerjee
  • Bengalis also need to realise that the sonar Bangla (golden Bengal) of yore is history.

    Harking back to a glorious past to divert attention from a hopeless present is self-defeatist.

It must be one of the greatest ironies of our times that Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee is posing as the champion of Bengali culture.

A whimsical and authoritarian leader positioning herself as such a champion, and apparently getting away with it, is a sad commentary on the state and society she represents.

But what is more dangerous, and has graver implications for Bengal and its people, is the myth that she continues to propagate about Bengal being the ‘cultural capital’ of India.

To be fair, Bengal had produced a huge number of literary and cultural icons in the pre-Independence era and the state, especially Calcutta (as the city was known as then), was the seat of learning, innovation, literature, the arts and the scholarly as well as cultural accomplishments.

Most of that was because the British established institutions of learning in the city, and those quickly grew into centres of excellence. Also, Bengalis were quick to realise the importance of Western education.

The first and second generation graduates from these British-established institutions quickly set high standards and established a culture of learning and scientific, technological, literary and artistic pursuits.

That made Bengal a fertile ground for the Bengal Renaissance, which came to be known as the glorious age of Bengal and one that Bengalis can justifiably be proud of.

Bengal’s age of achievements in various fields did not, however, last much after Independence. Thanks largely to communism taking firm roots in the state and the politicisation of all institutions leading to their rapid degeneration, the state’s decline started from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

As institutions started declining, the flight of Bengal’s best and brightest to other cities of the country and overseas started.

Militant trade unionism and anti-capital policies of the communists drove industries out of Bengal till it became an industrial graveyard.

The sharp economic and academic decline of Bengal triggered a disastrous intellectual, cultural and social decline as well as Bengal slipped behind most Indian states in nearly all indices.

However, in order to remain in power, the communists created the myth about Bengal’s, and Bengalis’, cultural and intellectual superiority.

That segued in perfectly well with the opium of ‘simple living, high thinking’ that the communists fed to Bengal’s masses to keep them poor and away from aspiring for material gains.

In reality, since the late-1970s, Bengal lost such a lot in all spheres that it had precious little that it could be proud of.

The state became synonymous with decrepitude, poverty, political unrest and degeneration even as it wallowed in mediocrity.

However, Bengal’s ruling communists kept perpetuating the myth that Bengal still remained the cultural capital of the country and a seat of learning and science.

Mamata Banerjee, whose report card in governance will rival the one of the communists, has followed in the Left’s footsteps and is still perpetuating this myth.

Though nothing could be furthest from the truth, Bengal’s masses have kept on deluding themselves that Bengal is culturally and intellectually far advanced than any other state of the country.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Mamata Banerjee repeated the falsehood about Bengal being the cultural capital of the country.

“If Mumbai is the financial capital of the country, Bengal is the cultural capital of India,” she said, while accusing the BJP of ‘denigrating’ Bengal’s culture.

Such delusion not only leads to a paralysing complacency on the part of the Bengalis, but also feeds fissiparous and centrifugal tendencies which are at odds with the idea of India and the aim of psychological integration of the country.

Thanks to such statements by Mamata Banerjee, and the communists before her, Bengalis have developed a false and dangerous sense of cultural and intellectual superiority.

Many Bengalis of Bengal--the ones who migrate out of Bengal soon realise the falsity of this sense of superiority that they had been nurtured on--actually look down on other states and communities as intellectually and culturally inferior.

This is a dangerous attitude that needs to be corrected forthwith. Bengalis need to realise that all states and communities have their unique and rich cultures and traditions.

And Bengalis also need to realise that the sonar Bangla (golden Bengal) of yore is history. It is only this realisation that can trigger a course correction and make Bengalis pull up their socks.

Lastly, Bengalis also need to stop believing politicians like Mamata Banerjee who perpetuate such myths.

There is no glory in the poverty, backwardness and the mediocrity that Bengal wallows in today. If Bengal has to get out of this morass, it has to first realise that it has sunk very deep into such a filthy and hopeless muddle.

And it is the duty of the state’s leaders to point this out to the masses and lead the battle to transform Bengal from the front. Harking back to a glorious past to divert attention from a hopeless present is self-defeatist.

Jaideep Mazumdar is an associate editor at Swarajya.

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